Lonesome George has died

The news is that Lonesome George, the last remaining tortoise of his kind and a conservation icon, died on Sunday of unknown causes, the Galapagos National Park said. He was thought to be about 100 years old.

New Scientist reports …

The rarest animal in the world is no more. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, was found dead on Sunday. But a small hope remains for his subspecies, as its genes have survived.

“He was an iconic animal for the Galápagos,” says Robert Silbermann, chief executive of the Galapagos Conservation Trust.

“It’s devastating to me,” says Gisella Caccone of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who has studied Galápagos giant tortoises for 20 years. “You develop a special bond.”

He was quite literally the last man (tortoise ) standing, hence his iconic name, so I can understand how those working there would have become quite attached to him. In hopes of preserving at least some of his genetic material, George was paired with several females of related subspecies over the years. For most of that time though, he showed no interest in breeding. Even attempts to extract his sperm came to naught. Sigh!, it is indeed rather tragic that the very last one was apparently gay.

The Guardian reports

Conservation scientists on Monday said George was important because he symbolised both the rapid loss of biodiversity now taking place around the world, and provided the inspiration to begin restoring it in places like the Galápagos Islands. “Because of George’s fame, Galápagos tortoises which were down to just a few animals on some islands have recovered their populations. He opened the door to finding new genetic techniques to help them breed and showed the way to restore habitats,” said Richard Knab of the Galápagos Conservancy, which is running giant tortoise breeding programmes with the Ecuadorean government.

They have a video here as well …

He might indeed have been alone, but he never really was, and helped to attract over 180,000 visitors who came to see him.

Scientific American also has a nice article about him here.

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