The last of his kind, giant tortoise Lonesome George dies at 100
The giant tortoise Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, has been found dead, officials at the Galapagos National Park have announced.
Lonesome George was believed to be the last living member of the Pinta Island subspecies and had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador’s coast whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution.
The tortoise’s age was not known but scientists believed he was about 100, not especially old for giant tortoises who can live for well over a century. Scientists had expected him to live another few decades at least.
Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George after he was found in 1972 in what proved unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive.
He lived at a tortoise breeding centre on the archipelago’s island of Santa Cruz. He was found on Sunday in his pen by his longtime keeper, Fausto Llerena.
Attempts were initially made to mate Lonesome George with two female tortoises from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. But the eggs they produced were infertile. Two females from the island’s tortoise population, the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises, were placed with him last year.
The park said the cause of his death would be investigated, but Galapagos conservation official Washington Llerena says scientists suspect Lonesome George died of a heart attack.
Giant tortoise experts from near and far were beginning an autopsy last night, and scientists from North America were aiding in the autopsy by videoconference.
The Galapagos’ giant tortoise population was decimated after the arrival of humans, but a recovery programme run by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation has increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today.
The pen where George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, who often had to scramble with each other to take pictures of one of the rarest creatures on Earth. The islands often attract celebrities, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who visited earlier this year.
Tortoises were hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction, while their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland.
“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, said. “His life cycle came to an end.”
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