Lonesome George: A Conservation Icon

| June 24, 2012 | 6 Comments
lonesome george galapagos tortoise Lonesome George: A Conservation Icon

Lonesome George—the last known individual of the Pinta Island tortoise.

Kathryn and I just learned (via a tweet from Bruce Poon Tip) that  Lonesome George, the last remaining tortoise of his kind, died on Sunday of unknown causes. He was thought to be about 100 years old. A quick google confirmed his passing (via Reuters):

“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula, told Reuters. “His life cycle came to an end.” George was believed to be around 100 years old and the last member of a species of giant tortoise from La Pinta, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park said.

Kathryn and I were fortunate enough to have visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre in December of 2010 and viewed Lonesome George who, living up to his name, was resting all by himself in his pen. In fact, the pen where George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, each seizing the opportunity to take a picture of one of the rarest creatures on Earth. We certainly cherish our photo of him (above).

An important icon

Indeed, Lonesome George was a sad—but important—icon. Watching him was like watching a species go extinct. His plight certainly touched all who saw and heard about him, drawing tourists from all over the world to the Islands and loosening wallets to help preserve the Archipelago.

The Galapagos National Park had been offering a reward of $10,000 for the discovery of a Pinta female, which was necessary to save the subspecies. Without a viable female, the Pinta Island tortoise had been considered functionally extinct in captivity; now, however, Lonesome George’s death signifies the complete extinction of the subspecies.

All may not be lost

According to Wikipedia, recently another male tortoise by the name of Tony, who currently resides in Prague Zoo, was discovered as most likely being an additional pure breed, native, Pinta tortoise. Believed to be born around 1960, Tony has been housed in the zoo since 1972. Peter Pritchard, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Galápagos tortoises (and of tortoises and turtles in the world, more generally), has found the shell on Tony to be extremely similar to that of George and Pinta museum specimens. Research is still currently being processed to confirm this match—and Tony is still being cared for at the Prague zoo.

A reminder

Lonesome George was not just a tortoise but also a conservation icon—he was an ambassador to remind us to think about what we are doing to the world. And with his passing we are all, indeed, left a little bit lonelier.

Related Posts

Tags: , , ,

Category: Dan's Blog

About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (6)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Pinta was a very small island in the chain, so it had a lower population of tortoises, and less room for them to avoid capture. The tortoises were doing extremely well, until humans discovered that they are amazingly delicious. They were widely regarded as one of the finest meats in the world. Not only that, but they survive on very small amounts of food and water. There was a story of one being found a year after it was lost in the cargo hold of a ship, still alive. Ships in the area would sail in and round of hundreds of them at a time. This, along with their size, made them the ideal food to take on long voyages.

    • Daniel says:

      Hey Steve — thanks for the comment. When we were down there, our Naturalist guide claimed that the whalers took the giant tortoises as living larders to provide fresh meat on the cruise. A typical whaling ship would round up 500-600 giant tortoises to be stored upside down in the holds. They would then be slaughtered and eaten when fresh meat was needed. According to Wikipedia, it is thought that the whalers caused the extinction of tortoise subspecies on the islands of Floreana, Santa Fe and Rabida. Unbelievably, it’s estimated that whaling ships removed 200,000 tortoises from the Archipelago. Crazy stuff.

  2. I just met him on Santa Cruz Island last month–but he was hiding behind a rock the whole time I was there! Sad! Truly lived up to his, though…

    • Daniel says:

      Ah — the Galapagos! Aren’t they magical? Well, there may be hope yet for the Pinta Tortoises — DNA testing may reveal a few extant specimens on the islands or elsewhere in the world. But there was just something so… personal about Lonesome George. Something to which everybody could relate. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Ayngelina says:

    So sad, it seems like everyone knew who he was.

  4. Michael says:

    It’s sad that this creature is extinct and some people are still after for these kinds. Next generation will only have to see this God’s creature through pictures. You both were still lucky.

Leave a Reply