(Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni)
Died: June 24, 2012
Story of Lonesome George
small island of Pinta is located in the North of the Galapagos archipelago. One of the 11 remaining races of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise
(Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni) comes from Pinta, but their history
is a tragic one. Whalers and
sealers heavily depleted their numbers in the 19th century, some ships taking
many tortoises at a time. The
tortoises were a good food source as they could live up to a year in the holds
of the ships without food and water. Females were generally taken first as they
are much smaller than the males and could be found in the more accessible
lowland areas during the egg laying season.
Before Lonesome George was found, the last reported sighting of tortoises
on Pinta was in 1906, when the island was visited by the Californian Academy of
Sciences. They collected three
males, which were the last tortoises seen on Pinta for the next 60 years.
issue for the Giant Tortoises of Pinta Island was the presence of goats, which
were released by fishermen in the 1950's as an alternative food source.
These introduced mammals destroyed much of the vegetation and directly
competed with any remaining tortoises for food.
The population of goats grew rapidly, devastating the vegetation and
1971, National Park wardens hunting goats on Pinta came across a single male
tortoise. He became known as "Lonesome George".
His name derived most certainly from being the only surviving example of
his species and "George," after the U.S. actor George Goebel, who
called himself "Lonesome George" in a television program. It was
decided to bring the animal back to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where
there was already a captive breeding program for the giant tortoises. Many years later, "Lonesome George" was placed in a
corral with female tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus becki) from Wolf
Volcano, located on Isabela Island.
hope was that by placing these animals together, the Pinta race through
"Lonesome George" would pass along at least some of his genes into
future generations. The Wolf race were the closest morphologically to the Pinta
race. The aim was to maintain George's sexual activity for the possibility that
a Pinta female was found, or at least back crossing to create as close an
offspring as possible to the Pinta characteristics.
Unfortunately, he has yet to succeed in breeding successfully with these
females, and we do not yet fully understand the reasons.
"Mounting" took place, but no eggs resulted.
This could be because of the genetic distance between George and the
tortoises of Northern Isabela.
Edward Lewis has made DNA scans of tortoises all over the world without finding
a match. George's diet is being
investigated to ensure there is no deficiency that could be causing his failure
to reproduce. We have considered
the theoretical possibility of cloning lonesome George, manipulating the gender
of the clone, and trying to produce a female. This is theoretically possible,
but practically very difficult, and the technology for cloning of tortoises has
not yet been developed. Before we
attempt cloning of Lonesome George, we feel we must exhaust all other
is the possibility that other tortoises could exist on George's native island of
Pinta. Young tortoises are very
small and secretive, and any young tortoises present when George was removed
from Pinta would most likely have been overlooked.
These tortoises would now be adults and technically easier to find,
except that the vegetation of Pinta has responded vigorously to the removal of
goats (which were previously destroying this vegetation.)
The island is now very hard to get around, and a major campaign must be
undertaken to systematically cover the island and definitively conclude that
there are no remaining Pinta tortoises to use as a mate for Lonesome George.
our efforts are unsuccessful, when "Lonesome George" eventually dies,
his race ends with him, and will join the other races of giant tortoise that
have become extinct in the Galapagos. Heavy
depredation by humans was the problem in the past. Today, one of the biggest
problems facing the endemic Giant Galapagos tortoise is that of introduced
National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station have eradicated
the troublesome goat from Pinta. Many of the native plant species have
recovered. There is hope for the
recovery of Pinta as there is hope that one day we will find a mate for
"Lonesome George" or another Pinta tortoise.
If we can find a mate for Lonesome George, we'll be a long ways towards
restoring the ecology of one of the most fascinating Galapagos Islands.
data about "Lonesome George"
estimated to be 70-80 years
Captive bred Mediterranean
tortoises for sale, care, and advice from experienced breeders