Reflecting on the Passing of “Lonesome George”

By |2023-03-09T10:20:16+00:00June 26th, 2012|Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Last Pinta Giant Tortoise Dies Sub-species of Giant Tortoise now Extinct

Officials at the Galapagos National Park have announced that the giant Pinta Island tortoise, the last of a sub-species of Galapagos giant tortoise has died.  The tortoise, affectionately known as “Lonesome George” was approximately one hundred years of age, a post-mortem would be undertaken to determine the cause of his death as some species of giant tortoise on the Galapagos islands can live for over two hundred years.

“Lonesome George”

Having failed to produce any offspring and with no evidence of any remaining members of the giant tortoise sub-species existing in the wild, “Lonesome George” was regarded as the very last of his kind.  With his death the sub-species known as Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni has become officially extinct.

For many years, scientists tried unsuccessfully to get the last of the Pinta Island tortoises to mate with closely related females, (from genetically similar sub-species) but to no avail.  The body of George was discovered by one of his keepers and this marks the extinction of this type of giant tortoise.

Giant Tortoise

The giant tortoise had become a tourist attraction and a symbol of the conservation efforts being carried out on the islands, which are formally under the management of the Government of Ecuador.  It was Sir Charles Darwin who first published widely read papers on the indigenous life to be found on the various islands that make up the Galapagos Archipelago.  He visited the islands in September 1835, and spent a few weeks studying the fauna and the flora.

The island of Pinta, in Darwin’s time was known as Abingdon Island and it was the Vice Governor of the Galapagos, Mr Lawson who impressed upon the young Darwin how each island seemed to have its own unique species.  Vice Governor Lawson declared that although some of the islands were only a few tens of miles apart, animals like the tortoises differed from the different islands.  He boasted that when presented with a tortoise, a quick examination would permit him to tell from which of the islands that tortoise originated from.  Darwin’s experiences on the Galapagos helped him to form his theory of natural selection and the origin of species.

The passing of “Lonesome George” is a sad event, although there are still many thousands of species of Chelonia in the world, many are under threat and any animal that could act as symbol for conservation and help to focus people’s efforts towards saving ecosystems and habitats was playing an important role, we lament the passing of George, perhaps his story will serve as a reminder to us all about how fragile such environments and the species that live within them are.

To read an article about the evolution of turtles and tortoises: How the Tortoise Got Its Shell.

The tortoise had been in captivity since 1972.  He was found by a Hungarian scientist, at the time the sub-species Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni was already thought to have become extinct so finding a male of the sub-species in the wild caused great excitement amongst scientists, but despite a prolonged search, no other representatives of the sub-species were found.

The body of George is being stored in a chilled,environmentally conditioned room to permit it to be preserved so that scientists can embalm the body and preserve it as a specimen.

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