Lonesome George was found dead in his enclosure on June 24th, 2012 at 8am by Fausto Llerana, George’s Keeper of 40 years.
While George is estimated to have been 100 years old, he wasn’t considered old. Giant Galapagos Tortoises can live up to 200 years.
Who Was Lonesome George?
Lonesome George (Spanish: El Solitario Jorge) was of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii and was also known as the Pinta Island tortoise. Until 1971, George’s subspecies was thought to be extinct. In December of that year, he was spotted on Pinta Island by biologist Jozsef Vagvolgyi.
With his discovery, Lonesome George quickly became the worlds most eligible (tortoise) bachelor complete with a $10,000 reward for finding a suitable female. Unfortunately, no match was found.
George was a “saddleback” tortoise. The name is given to tortoises whose shell (or carapace) is shaped like a saddle. These type of tortoises are generally found on islands with dry lowland areas, like Pinta Island where George is from. Saddleback Tortoises are generally smaller and have longer necks.
Why Was Lonesome George in Captivity?
George was relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Center for his safety. At the center he would be ensured adequate food and care. On Pinta Island, George was competing for food with an exploding population of wild goats. At the Darwin Center he was penned with two females of another subspecies and although eggs were produced a number of times none hatched.
Why Does Lonesome George Matter?
As the last known individual of his subspecies, Lonesome George become an icon of conservation – not just in the Galapagos but around the world. He was the only known Pinta Island Tortoise alive. The loss of any species or subspecies is recognized as a tragedy, both by biologists and the general public. If Galapagos Park estimates are correct, this subspecies has now gone extinct.
Lonesome George also became the face of the Galapagos Islands for the past forty years. George’s plight as the only remaining individual of his species highlighted the need for more work to be done – to prevent this from happening to more of the Galapagos wildlife.
What About Other Galapagos Tortoises?
There is a population of roughly 20,000 giant tortoises among the remaining 10 subspecies. While other islands have just one subspecies each, the largest island in the Galapagos, Isabela Island, has five unique subspecies. One subspecies for each of the five volcanoes (Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra, and Cerro Azul).
Lonesome George will be missed by everyone.
We are happy to have seen George on our trip to the Darwin Station. Have you met Lonesome George? Share your comments below.
Image of Lonesome George is owned by Mike Weston.