A Tribute to Galapagos Icon "Lonesome George"

June 26, 2012
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Lonesome George, the giant tortoise that became perhaps the best-known resident of Galapagos Islands passed away this past Sunday in his pen at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Scientists estimate that he was around 100 years old.

According to Galapagos National Park officials, Fausto Llerena, George’s keeper for 40 years, found him dead in his corral. With George’s passing, the Pinta Island subspecies of giant tortoise is now considered extinct.

A Hungarian scientist discovered George on Pinta Island in 1972. It was previously believed that his subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was extinct. For decades, attempts were made to get Lonesome George to breed with females from a closely related subspecies but were unsuccessful. On multiple occasions, George’s girlfriends laid eggs; however, none of these resulted in off-spring. In fact, it was the giant tortoise’s inability to procreate that earned him the nickname "Lonesome."

As news of Lonesome George’s passing spread worldwide, former guests on IE’s Galapagos tours weighed in on our Facebook page with these words of tribute.

"I consider myself lucky to have seen George about eight years ago." – Jennifer

"We are glad we got to see him, but so sad - yet another tombstone for another species on this planet." Tom

Tortoises were plentiful on the Galapagos Islands until the late 19th century, but were then hunted to the brink of extinction for their meat by sailors and fishermen. Their populations continued to suffer after goats, which were introduced from mainland South America, decimated their habitats.

As the sole surviving member of his subspecies, Lonesome George’s plight as Earth’s rarest creature captured worldwide attention and made him a conservation icon and a powerful symbol of the tragedy of extinction. His passing is an urgent reminder that it is more important than ever to support conservation in the Galapagos. While nothing can be done now to bring back George’s kind, there are many other endemic Galapagos species that face the very real threat of extinction, including the Floreana mockingbird and the mangrove finch. At International Expeditions, we believe that perhaps the best way to honor George’s memory is to ensure that man does everything in our power to save the archipelago’s other residents.


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