“Lonesome George” may cheat extinction

July 22, 2008

George the giant tortoise is seen at the national park on the Galapagos islands in this April 29, 2007 file photo.So “Lonesome George” might become a Dad?

In lists of endangered creatures such as black rhinos, orang utans, tigers or blue whales, “Lonesome George” has long had the saddest status as the only one known survivor of the Pinta island species of Galapagos giant tortoise.

That has made him the “rarest living creature” for the Guinness Book of Records.

But now my colleague Alonso Soto in Quito reports that he’s mated with one of his two female companions of a similar species and keepers have found several eggs in his pen. If they hatch, they would at least preserve half of his genes.

Good on you, George! It would be an amazing turnaround after he has kept the species a heartbeat away from oblivion, showing little interest in sex in 36 years in captivity.

The Darwin Foundation has explained his problems by saying “he probably grew up alone and did not learn proper social and mating behaviour” even though he is in his sexual prime for a tortoise, aged about 60 to 90.

I visited the Galapagos Islands on a holiday in the late 1980s and went to Lonesome George’s enclosure –I can imagine that he was put off thinking of anything but survival because tourists were allowed to wander right up to him. The constant disturbances by people trampling around him can hardly have put him in a romantic mood. And maybe he’d been holding out in vain to meet an ideal Pinta mate?


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It’s always heartening to hear stories like this; thank you! Go George!

Posted by Melanthios | Report as abusive

If it was sooo important, they would have used artificial means to reproduce a long time ago. Looks like we are getting another bleeding heart story about man disturbing the poor little innocent creates. These people want us to believe the world would be a better place if man were the one on the extinction list.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Thanks Melanthios…and yes, Rick, I guess that artificial insemination or cloning could be the solution for the species, but not half the fun for George! …and surely people can sympathise with George’s plight without wanting the human race wiped out?

I see there’s even a book about him: Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon”. http://us.macmillan.com/lonesomegeorge

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive