Lonesome George, the sole remaining Pinta Island tortoise and Galapagos conservation icon, was found dead on Sunday in his corral at the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Centre in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, according to an announcement by the Galapagos
Fausto Llerena, the park ranger who discovered George and has been his long-term caretaker, discovered George stretched out in the direction of his watering hole with no signs of life. Possible causes of death of this individual, the sole survivor of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni), will not be known until after a necropsy. The body of Lonesome George, whose age is unknown but estimated at more than 100 years old, is currently being held in a cold chamber to avoid decomposition prior to a necropsy.
Lonesome George was found on Pinta in 1972 although Pinta tortoises were thought to be extinct. Since then, Lonesome George has been part of the Tortoise Programme of the Galapagos National Park Service. Various efforts were made to get George to reproduce. Two female tortoises collected on Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) were put in Lonesome George’s corral. These females produced eggs at the end of 15 years with Lonesome George. Unfortunately all of the eggs were infertile. Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end.
The plight of Lonesome George provided a catalyst for an extraordinary effort by the government of Ecuador to restore not only tortoise populations throughout the archipelago but also improve the status of other endangered and threatened species.
“This July, the GNPS is convening an international workshop to focus on management strategies for the restoration of tortoise populations during the next ten years. The workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George," said Edwin Naula, director of the park.
Lonesome George’s legacy will be an increased effort in both research and management to restore his island of Pinta and all of the other giant tortoise populations of Galapagos, the park said.