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Goodbye George

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Another very sad event.

End of a species with death of Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George


Stretching out towards the watering hole in his enclosure on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, the world-famous giant tortoise Lonesome George took one last breath and died yesterday, leaving the world one species poorer.

George, who was thought to be more than 100 years old, was the only remaining Pinta Island tortoise and since he was discovered 40 years ago had become celebrated conservation icon, counting Prince Charles among his many fans.

George was discovered by a snail biologist on Pinta, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were already believed to be extinct. Since then, the 550lbs (250kg) reptile had been part of the Galapagos National Park’s tortoise program and was considered the world’s rarest living creature.

George’s longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the tortoise “stretched out in the direction of his watering hole with no signs of life†in his pen at the tortoise breeding centre on the archipelago’s island of Santa Cruz Island on Sunday morning, according to a statement from the Galapagos National Park Service.

“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,†the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula, told Reuters. “His life cycle came to an end.â€

Repeated efforts to breed George had failed over the years. Two female tortoises collected on Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) had been placed in his pen in 1993. After 15 years with the bachelor tortoise the females had produced eggs, but all of the eggs were infertile.

But Lonesome George was not alone when he died.

“Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end,†the park service said.

The reptile’s cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned in the coming days. The Galapagos National Park Service said it is considering embalming George’s body so that it can be displayed in the park, which is a popular tourist destination.

The pen where George lived has been visited by thousands of tourists every year keen to catch a glimpse of the rare creatures on Earth who had become a symbol of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, which attracted some 180,000 visitors last year.

Prince Charles met George during a trip to Galapagos in 2009, and more recently Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt took their children on a holiday there earlier this year.

The giant Galapagos tortoises, which can live up to 200 years old, were among the species that helped Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution in the 19th century.

The Galapagos, which is situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and is considered a haven for the reptiles.

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.

Tortoises had been hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction, while their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland in the 1950s.

Even Charles Darwin used to eat the tortoises when he arrived in the Galapagos in 1835. He recorded in The Voyage of the Beagle how, when staying on James Island, “We lived entirely upon tortoise-meat: the breast-plate roasted - with the flesh on it, is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup; but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.â€


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Very sad indeed.

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It reminds me slightly of a tortoise brought back from Gallipoli. Certainly a few years ago he was still alive but probably gone by now.

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A great shame...

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