Lonesome George, a giant tortoise thought to be the last of his subspecies, was found dead by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llere, on Sunday morning. The tortoise was believed to be around 100 years old; as adults in his Pinta tortoise subspecies can live up to 200 years, Lonesome George was technically a young adult. Officials at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador will be carrying out of post-mortem and plan to embalm his body to preserve it for future generations..
With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, Lonesome George gained the title of the “loneliest creature in the world,” says the BBC. This BBC video was made in 2009:
A Hungarian scientist first saw Lonesome George on the Galapagos Island of La Pinta, one of the smallest of the islands, in 1972. The tortoise was brought to Ecuador to be part of the Galapagos National Park’s breeding program. In 1993, he successfully mated with a female from Wolf Volcano after 15 years of living with her, but the eggs were infertile. Another effort to have him mate with females from Espanola island, who are genetically closer to Lonesome George, failed.
About 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies still live in the Galapagos Islands. They were plentiful there until the late 19th century when sailors and fishermen hunted them to the point of extinction. Goats introduced from the mainland further destroyed the tortoises’ habitat.
The loss of so many tortoises, as well as the death of Lonesome George and of his subspecies with it, is all the more tragic in that it was the differences among tortoises on the Galapagos Islands that were key to helping Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.
Lonesome George had become a symbol of the Galapagos Islands. He was visited by thousands every year and is already very much missed.
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Photo by putneymark