“Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”
Last year, I visited the Galapagos Islands and one of the highlights was a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz to see Lonesome George, pictured here. But this morning I heard the news via The Age that Lonesome George had died – World loses species with death of tortoise Lonesome George. I had to stop what I was doing and take a moment to look at my photos and remember my visit.
I’m not sure why, but for me, seeing Lonesome George was more exciting than seeing Giant Tortoises in the wild on Isabela Island. Perhaps it’s because Lonesome George has become such an icon for the conservation movement in the Galapagos Islands that it was just a really special moment to catch a glimpse of him.
Lonesome George was discovered on the remote (and rarely visited) island of Pinta in 1971. At the time, it was thought all the tortoises had been exterminated by whalers and seal hunters, so it was a startling discovery. In March 1972, he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station and, initially, scientists hoped they would also be able to find some females specimens on Pinta Island for him to breed with. But this wasn’t to be, and, as a last ditch effort, they put two female tortoises from Wolf Volcano in his pen. Unfortunately, Lonesome George just wasn’t interested in them and now that he is gone, the species is extinct.
While I was in the Galapagos Island’s, I purchased the book Lonesome George: The life and loves of a conservation icon by Henry Nichols, which is a wonderful read. The final paragraph reads:
One day, of course, George will give up the tortoise ghost. Even then, he will be of immense value to the Galapagos… Lonesome George must remain in the archipelago, at the research station on Santa Cruz. By then, this is where he will have spent most of his life; this is the place that Lonesome George would call home. Even in death, it is here that he will have his greatest audience.
According to The Age report, the Galapagos National Park Service have said they will be convening an international workshop in July on management strategies for restoring tortoise populations over the next decade, in honour of Lonesome George.