It has been exactly two years since the death of Lonesome George – the last of the Pinta Island giant tortoises. Lonesome George is gone, but not forgotten. His name is now an icon conservation – and a reminder of the fragility of the Galapagos island ecosystem. On the two-year anniversary of Lonesome George’s death, we remember his life and his impact on conservation.
Life of Lonesome George
Pinta island was a frequent stop for whalers and other ships, who captured the giant tortoises and stored them alive onboard as a source of fresh meat while at sea. Later, goats were introduced to the island. The goat population exploded, destroying the vegetation and the tortoise habitat on the island. Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1971 – the lone survivor of his species. He relocated a year later to the Charles Darwin Conservation Center on Puerto Ayora while scientists searched Pinta island and scoured international zoos for a female mate.
When scientists failed to find other Pinta island tortoises, they introduced Lonesome George to tortoises from other islands – most similar to his species – but he was unable to produce offspring.
Lonesome George was found dead of natural causes in his enclosure by his keeper on June 24, 2012.
Scientists have now found what they believe to be hybrid tortoises on Wolf Volcano, with more or less half Pinta Island Tortoise ancestry. No purebred Pinta island tortoises have been found, but the research continues.
Legacy of Lonesome George
I never saw Lonesome George. Visitors to the Charles Darwin Conservation Center now see an empty enclosure still bearing his name where Lonesome George lived the last years of his life. In downtown Puerto Ayora, the statue of Lonesome George stands guard.
Lonesome George’s legacy now is in the Giant Tortoise Recovery Project – the monumental work of returning the uninhabited Galapagos islands to pristine conditions and restoring the giant tortoise populations there.