Goodbye Lonesome George

The last known member of the subspecies Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni), affectionately named Lonesome George, passed away on Sunday at about 100 years old (no one knew his exact age). He had been the last of his kind in the Galapagos Islands for the past 40 years, earning his nickname. The suspected cause of death is a heart attack. The Galapagos National Park Service will be preserving his body for future studies. 

The reason for the extinction of these tortoises: overhunting by fishermen and sailors in the 19th century along with habitat destruction by feral goats. Giant tortoises can live up to 200 years or so. George was not without health issues, however. He had suffered a fall in 1980 along with bouts of constipation and obesity. So for the last 40 years, a strict diet and veterinary care have helped to keep George in better health. Attempts to pair George with females from related subspecies over the years failed.

George had been the poster-tortoise for endangered species and was even the subject of a book in 2006:    

His fame brought numerous visitors to the Darwin research station who just wanted to meet the famed tortoise.

There are still about 20,000 giant tortoises in the Galapagos islands from 9-15 subspecies (still being determined). One other subspecies, the Duncan Island tortoise (C. n. duncanensis) is listed as "Extinct in the Wild" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species while the Hood Island tortoise (C. n. hoodensis), is listed as “Critically Endangered.”

So long George, you will be missed by many.


Scientific American

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By gabriel roybal (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink