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Galapagos Lonesome George, the story of a Giant Tortoise

Lonesome George (Spanish: El Solitario Jorge/George) (before 1912 – 24 June 2012) was a male Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii) and the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George served as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally.

Discovery: George was first seen on the island of Pinta on 1 November 1971 by Hungarian malacologist József Vágvölgyi. The island's vegetation had been devastated by introduced feral goats, and the indigenous C. n. abingdonii population had been reduced to a single individual. It is thought that he was named after a character played by American actor George Gobel.

Relocated for his safety to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, George was penned with two females of a different subspecies. Although eggs were produced, none hatched. The Pinta tortoise was pronounced functionally extinct as George was in captivity.

Mating Attempts: Over the decades, all attempts at mating Lonesome George had been unsuccessful, possibly due to the lack of females of his own subspecies. This prompted researchers at the Darwin Station to offer a $10,000 reward for a suitable mate. Until January 2011, George was penned with two females of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra becki (from the Wolf Volcano region of Isabela Island), in the hope his genotype would be retained in any resulting progeny. This subspecies was then thought to be genetically closest to George's; however, any potential offspring would have been intergrades, not purebreds of the Pinta subspecies. In July 2008, George mated with one of his female companions. Thirteen eggs were collected and placed in incubators. On 11 November 2008, the Charles Darwin Foundation reported 80% of the eggs showed weight loss characteristic of being inviable. By December 2008, the remaining eggs had failed to hatch and x-rays showed they were inviable. On 23 July 2009, exactly one year after announcing George had mated, the Galápagos National Park announced one of George's female companions had laid a second clutch of five eggs. The park authority expressed its hope for the second clutch of eggs, which it said were in perfect condition. The eggs were moved to an incubator, but on 16 December, it was announced the incubation period had ended and the eggs were inviable (as was a third batch of six eggs laid by the other female). In November 1999, scientists reported Lonesome George was "very closely related to tortoises" from Española Island (C. n. hoodensis) and San Cristóbal Island (C. n. chathamensis). On 20 January 2011, two individual C. n. hoodensis female partners were imported to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where George lived. A reward of $10,000 was offered by the Ecuadorean government for the discovery of a suitable female to help save the subspecies.

Death: On 24 June 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Edwin Naula, Director of the Galápagos National Park, announced that Lonesome George had been found dead by his caretaker of 40 years, Fausto Llerena. Naula suspects that the cause of death was heart failure consistent with the end of the natural life cycle of a tortoise. A necropsy confirmed that he died of "old age". Officials stated that he will be embalmed and put on display on Santa Cruz Island for future generations to see. He was believed to be more than 100 years old, though this is not especially old for a Galápagos tortoise.

Biological conservation: In November 2012, in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers reported identifying 17 tortoises that are partially descended from the same species as Lonesome George, leading them to speculate that related purebred individuals of that species may still be alive.

Source: Wikipedia

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