Giant Tortoise ‘Lonesome George’ Dies at 100 in Galapagos
Time to bid farewell to Lonesome George, the last remaining giant tortoise of its kind, belonging to the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, which is believed to date back some 10 million years.
On 24 June 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Director of the Galápagos National Park Edwin Naula announced that Lonesome George, the 200-pound, 5-foot-long giant tortoise, had been found deadby his caretaker of 40 years, Fausto Llerena. Naula suspects that the cause of death was heart failure consistent with the end of the natural life cycle of a tortoise.
“The plight of Lonesome George provided a catalyst for an extraordinary effort by the government of Ecuador to restore not only tortoise populations throughout the archipelago but also improve the status of other endangered and threatened species,” according to the statement posted on the park’s website.
Lonesome George was the last of the Pinta island giant tortoises believed to be about 100 years old at the time of his death. He served as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lonesome George, a native of Pinta, an isolated northern island of the Galápagos, is the “rarest living creature.” By the late 1960s, it was noted that the tortoise population on this island that is visited only occasionally by scientists and fishermen, had dwindled close to extinction, and in 1972, only this single male of the species Geochelone abingdoni was found.
Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George after he was found in 1972. Unfortunately, he did not have any offspring to continuously conserve his species. Relocated for his safety to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, George was penned with two females of a different subspecies from Wolf Volcano region of Isabela Island. Although eggs were produced, none hatched.
An autopsy has been performed on Lonesome George to determine the cause of his death. Two biologists and a veterinarian spent two hours examining his body and took samples of his organs and tissue for laboratory analysis. The only anomaly they found was that its liver showed “abnormal coloring, presumably a factor of age,” the park said.
“The conclusion is that the tortoise died of natural causes, probably brought on by old age,” the management of Galapagos National Park said. Remains of Lonesome George will be embalmed and will occupy a place of honor in a museum or study center for tortoises that will bear its name.