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.
(06/24/2012) After two miscarriages and a pregnancy that lasted 15 months, Ratu, a female Sumatra rhino, has given birth to a healthy male calf, conservationists happily announced this weekend. The birth at a rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the best reproductive rhino science in the world. This is the first captive birth in Indonesia, and only the fourth captive birth for the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the last hundred years. The successful birth brings new hope for one of the world’s rarest mammals: less than 200 Sumatra rhinos are thought to survive in the world.
(06/06/2012) World leaders need to do much more to protect the Earth’s millions of species for the services they provide, according to a new scientific consensus statement in Nature based on over 1,000 research papers. Written by 17 top ecologists, the statement points out that despite growing knowledge of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and survival, species continue to vanish at alarming rates. The statement comes just weeks before the UN’S Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which is supposed to chart a path for a less impoverished and more equitable world including an emphasis on greater environmental protections, but which has been marred by a lack of ambition.
(05/23/2012) Nights on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean will never again be the same. The last echolocation call of a tiny bat native to the island, the Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), was recorded on August 26th 2009, and since then there has been only silence. Perhaps even more alarming is that nothing was done to save the species. According to a new paper in Conservation Letters the bat was lost to extinction while Australian government officials equivocated and delayed action even though they were warned repeatedly that the situation was dire. The Christmas Island pipistrelle is the first mammal to be confirmed extinct in Australia in 50 years.
(05/15/2012) In 48 years wildlife populations in the tropics, the region that holds the bulk of the world’s biodiversity, have fallen by an alarming 61 percent, according to the most recent update to the Living Planet Index. Produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the index currently tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species (including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) in both the tropics and temperate regions.
(03/27/2012) The theory that humans, and not climate change, was primarily responsible for the extinction of giant marsupials in prehistoric Australia takes another step forward with a new study in Science. Exploring sediment cores for past evidence of big herbivores, researchers found that the arrival of humans coincided with the loss of a menagerie of magnificent beasts, from giant kangaroos to fearsome marsupial lions and monster birds to Komodo dragon-like reptiles. The decline of this megafauna ultimately led to ecological changes that may have caused Australia’s rainforest to become savannah.
(03/22/2012) The world’s smallest dolphin is also the closest to extinction. New Zealand government figures show that Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) are down to just 55 mature individuals, falling from 111 in 2005. The small cetaceans, measuring up to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), are imperiled due to drowning in gillnets with the most recent death by a fisherman’s net occurring in January.
(03/22/2012) A recent study has found that half of the world’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites remain unprotected, leaving many endangered species, some on the verge of extinction, gravely vulnerable to habitat loss. Published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, the study urges governments to focus on expanding protected areas to cover the species that need it most.
(03/13/2012) Although officially declared extinct in 2003, some people believe the Javan tiger (panthera tigris sondaica) is still alive in the island’s Meru Betiri National Park. To prove the big cat has not vanished for good, wildlife officials have installed five camera traps in the park, reports Antara News.