- George, the last known member of the Hawaiian snail species Achatinella apexfulva, died on the first day of 2019.
- In 1997, researchers collected the last 10 known A. apexfulva specimens from the island of O‘ahu in a last-gasp bid to save the species through captive breeding. A few offspring did result from the program, but none survived, except George.
- George, who was 14 years old when he died, was emblematic of the plight of the Hawaiian land snails, which are threatened by habitat loss and the introduction of predatory species.
On the first day of 2019, George, the last known member of the Hawaiian snail species Achatinella apexfulva, died. He was 14 years old.
Named after Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii) from Galapagos, George was also a lonesome individual: he had spent most of his life in a terrarium at the University of Hawaii, all on his own.
George’s life began in captivity. In 1997, researchers collected the last 10 known A. apexfulva specimens from the Poamoho trail on the island of O‘ahu in a final bid to provide a sliver of hope for the species. The captive-breeding program did produce a few offspring, but none survived, except George.
While members of A. apexfulva are hermaphrodites, i.e. they have both male and female parts, the snails still need a partner to reproduce. But researchers, who refer to George as a “he”, failed to find him a mate despite several years of attempts.
With no known individuals of A. apexfulva left either in the wild or in captivity, the species is now officially extinct. The only bit that remains is a 2-millimeter (0.08-inch) piece of George’s foot that was cut and sent to the Frozen Zoo at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, where it lies in deep freeze, waiting for future advances in technology that might allow cloning.
“George’s passing is a significant loss to locals as he was featured in numerous articles and hundreds of school children have viewed him over the years,” Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) said in a statement confirming George’s death.
George was also “an ambassador for the plight of the Hawaiian land snails,” said David Sischo, a wildlife biologist with the DLNR and coordinator of the Snail Extinction Prevention Program that has been working to prevent Hawaii’s at-risk snail species from going extinct.
A. apexfulva was one of the first of more than 750 species of land snails to be described from the Hawaiian islands. But most of these snails are in trouble today, mainly because of habitat destruction from introduced animals like pigs, goats and deer. Predators introduced to the islands, such as rats and the rosy wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea) that feast on the native Hawaiian snails, have also contributed to the demise of many snail species. The rosy wolfsnail is, in fact, thought to be the main driver of A. apexfulva’s extinction.
“Sadly, his passing is also a harbinger of what’s to come for our remaining Kāhuli (tree snails) if more is not done quickly to protect them from invasive species and climate change,” Sischo said. “Many of the island’s remaining land snails are facing imminent extinction.”