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  Page updated:29.06.2009

Lonesome George (Geochelone abingdoni)

For more information contact:
Washington Tapia, Proceso de Conservación y Desarrollo Sustentable
+593 (0)5 252 6189 Ext.227, wtapia@dpng.gob.ec

Lonesome George was the last Pinta Island tortoise, the last of his species.

The Wold Loses one of the most famous and known Giant Tortoise Lonesome George

On the morning of June 23 Lonesome George died in his yard, located in the Turtle Breeding Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

A Park ranger Fausto Llerena, who discovered and cared for, was a sad surprise at 08h00, when revising the pen of "Lonesome George", it did not move, when reviewing realized he had no vital signs. The body of the tortoise was in a position as if he had been leading to the drinking water.

Possible causes of the death of this individual, sole survivor of the Pinta Island species (Chelonoidis abingdoni) is known once the autopsy is performed respectively.

The body of Lonesome George, whose exact age is unknown, but estimates of the hundred years passed, when is in a cold chamber to prevent decomposition.

Lonesome George was found on Pinta island in 1972, when it was believed that the species of turtles on this island was totally extinct. Since then the turtle has been part of captive breeding program of the GNP. Various initiatives were implemented to try to reproduce it, initially with females of the species of Wolf volcano on Isabela Island, who got mate after 15 years together, but unfortunately the eggs were infertile.
Were then placed in their pen females of the species of the Spanish island, genetically closer, who was until today.

Necropsy confirmed natural death of George

Tuesday June 25 at 11:30 was conducted the autopsy of the body of Lonesome George in a special area of ??the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), with the present fiscal environment, to discover the cause of death in this giant land tortoise, the last of the species from Pinta Island (Chelonoidis abingdoni), who was found dead Sunday morning in his yard from the center of giant tortoise breeding in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

The body was kept in cold storage at a temperature of two degrees Celsius to prevent decomposition.

The autopsy was conducted by a team of scientists and technicians made by Marilyn Cruz, a veterinarian specializing in wildlife, Washington Tapia, Biologist specialist Galapagos reptiles, James Gibbs, biologist specializing in reptiles and scientific advisor to the GNP

Registered specialists and measures throughout the body, whose parts were checked thoroughly and found nothing abnormal. After opening the shell, all organs were inspected and did not find any abnormality, except that his liver had an unusual color, presumably typical of the age.

During three hours samples were taken from each organ and tissue for laboratory analysis. The conclusion is that the death was from natural causes, probably caused by aging.

With the death of the last survivor of the Pinta, Chelonoides abingdoni are reduced to 10 species of tortoises from the islands that are part of the protected area of ??the Galapagos National Park.

There is seldom the opportunity to look at the extinction of a species up close. Lonesome George is the last known giant tortoise of Pinta Island (Geochelone nigra abingdoni).

It was thought there were no tortoises on Pinta Island until December 1st, 1971, when the American biologist Joseph Vagvolgyi saw one. As soon as the news reached the experts, an operation was launched to rescue Lonesome George. He is the last of his species.

Pinta Island had been invaded by introduced feral goats that destroyed the vegetation that the tortoises feed on, reducing the entire population to this one individual.

In 1972, George was transferred to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park cares for him. Since 1993, he shares his pen with two females of the most genetically similar species, Geochelone nigra becki, from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island.

George´s age is not known, although it is estimated to be between 60 and 90 years, certainly within the reproductive age. However, for decades he has not shown the slightest interest in his female companions.

False alarm

The nesting behavior of Lonesome George´s companions raised many expectations.

On July 21st, 2008, the Park Rangers responsible for the Fausto Llerena Center for Reproduction and Breeding in Captivity found a nest prepared the previous night by one of the two females, and the eggs were collected for incubation.

Two weeks later, George´s second mate nested, and on September 8th a third nest was found.

However, by November 2008, 80% of the eggs showed signs of infertility, such as weight loss.

In early December it was confirmed that none of the eggs had been fertilized. There was no hint of developed embryos.

Hopes based on genetics

In May 2007, researchers identified a tortoise on Isabela which shared 50% of the genes of the Pinta tortoise, indicating that it was a first generation direct descendant of this species. Therefore it is possible that at least one Pinta tortoise is among the 2,000 Isabela tortoises.

In late 2008, a group of seven foreign experts in genetics and twenty-six Park Rangers of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park began an expedition to Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. The purpose was to take blood samples from as many tortoises of this population as possible, in order to find hybrid individuals with genes from tortoises on the island of Pinta and genes from tortoises living on that volcano. 

View Program: Genetic study of Wolf Volcano tortoises




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