Lonesome George (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii) is the name of a giant tortoise, believed to be the last living member of the Pinta island subspecies and had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador’s coast, whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution. The giant tortoise has died recently, as announced by the Galapagos National Park.
This possibly 100 year old tortoise had failed efforts to produce offspring by mating females of close subspecies so that his subspecies could be kept alive.
Lonesome George became part of the Galapagos National Park breeding programme. After 15 years of living with a female tortoise from the nearby Wolf volcano, Lonesome George did mate, but the eggs were infertile.
He became a symbol of the Galapagos Islands, which attract some 180,000 visitors a year. With George’s death, the Pinta tortoise subspecies has become extinct.
His body would be embalmed to conserve him for future generations.
Factbox: Tortoises Threatened
Here are some tortoises which are in trouble:
Tortoises of Galapagos Islands
Tortoises were plentiful on the Galapagos Islands until the late 19th century, but were later hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction.
Their habitat furthermore suffered when goats were introduced from the mainland. Some 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies still live on the Galapagos.
The Galapagos’ giant tortoise population was decimated after the arrival of humans but a recovery program run by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation has increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today. With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies left, Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world
The differences in appearance between tortoises from different Galapagos islands were among the features which helped the British naturalist Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.