Earlier this summer a legend of the Galapagos Islands passed away – the giant tortoise, known globally as Lonesome George.

George was a Pinta Island tortoise, and he was believed to be the last of his kind. He lived out his years at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador.

His exact age was unknown, but scientists had estimated he was around 100 years old. Though this may seem ancient to us, giant tortoises have been known to live more than 200 years, so Lonesome George was in fact only nearing middle age. Keepers at the Galapagos National Park and scientists alike believed this to mean George was in his sexual prime and so old Lonesome George became part of the Galapagos breeding programme.

In an attempt to increase and protect the populations of the many species of giant tortoise, George was suited to a number of females of closely related subspecies. But to the disappointment of his keepers and the ecological community, none quite caught George’s eye. In one case, after living with one female partner for 15 years, George decided it was about time for parenthood. Sadly it was not to be, and the eggs laid were infertile. And so George was dubbed lonesome for ever more.

With his unsuccessful breeding attempts and his recent passing away, what does the loss of Lonesome George mean for the Galapagos Islands and the future of giant tortoises?

Lonesome George was a major tourist attraction in Ecuador and the Galapagos with thousands of people flocking there each year to visit the park and catch a glimpse of the island’s national treasure. Although his legacy remains and his face still haunts the streets on t-shirts, key rings and other mementos, the island is yet to know the extent of financial detriment that George’s passing will cause to the National Park.

The Pinta Island tortoise is now globally recognised as extinct; it is the first high profile extinction for a long time and was picked up readily by the media. Environmentalists and workers at the Galapagos National Park are hoping that this increased interest will help to spark recognition of the danger that the Galapagos tortoises and other endangered species are in.

Lonesome George may have left his adoring islanders, but his legacy will live on and his story will hopefully brighten the fate of his fellow subspecies.

Alice Burke

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1 Comment

  1. Helen
    September 11, 2012 at 19:04 — Reply

    I had the good fortune to meet Lonesome George some years ago when I visited the Galapagos islands.
    He was a bit of an introvert which maybe explains why he failed to develop any meaningful relationship with the opposite sex. Lovely fella, mind. I understand they are thinking about cloning him now, is that right?

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