Lonesome George passes, taking unique subspecies with him

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
June 25, 2012



Lonesome George, the last of his kind, has passed away.
Lonesome George, the last of his kind, has passed away.

Lonesome George, the sole surviving member of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni), was found dead on Sunday by staff at the Galapagos National Park. With George's passing, the Pinta Island tortoise subspecies officially falls into extinction.

First found in 1972, Lonesome George became famous for representing the last of his kind. He was believed to be around 100—middle-aged for a Galapagos tortoise which can live to 200 years old. Staff plan to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Over the decades scientists attempted to mate Lone George with other Galapagos Island tortoise subspecies, but these attempts ultimately failed. He mated with tortoises from Wolf Volcano (Chelonoidis nigra becki), but the three egg clutches produced all proved infertile. Last year he was placed with female tortoises from Espanola Island (Chelonoidis nigra hoodensis), which were found to be genetically closer to George, but no eggs were produced.

The Galapagos Islands were once home to at least 12 unique subspecies of tortoises. With the extinction of the Pinta Island tortoise, two subspecies are now gone, including the Charles Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra nigra) which was eaten to extinction by sailors in the 19th Century. All ten of the remaining subspecies are considered threatened by the IUCN Red List and the Galapagos tortoise species as a whole is listed as Vulnerable with around 20,000 individuals.

The massive slow-moving grazers were easy-pickings for the sailors who first visited the Galapagos Islands, including Charles Darwin who used the turtles as examples for his theory of evolution. The ships and the subsequent settlements also brought invasive species—such as rats, pigs, dogs, cats, and goats—which preyed on turtle eggs and decimated many of the islands' ecologies. Today, conservationists are actively preserving the remaining tortoise populations and re-wilding some islands where tortoises have vanished. Still tortoises are imperiled by expanding tourism and development on the islands.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (June 25, 2012).

Lonesome George passes, taking unique subspecies with him.

http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0625-hance-lonesome-george.html