Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George dies

By AAP and AG Staff 25 June 2012
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At about 100 years old, Lonesome George, the world’s rarest tortoise, dies – putting an end to his species.

PINTA ISLAND TORTOISE Lonesome George (Geochelone nigra abingdoni) has died, leaving the world one species poorer.

The only remaining Pinta Island tortoise and celebrated conservation icon passed away on Sunday, the Galapagos National Park Service said in a statement.

Estimated to be more than 100-years-old, the creature’s cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned.

Lonesome George’s longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the tortoise’s remains stretched out in the “direction of his watering hole” on Santa Cruz Island, the statement said.

Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were already believed to be extinct. Since then, the animal had been part of the park service’s tortoise program.

Repeated efforts to breed Lonesome George failed. “Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end,” the park service said.

In 2010 AG editor Ian Connellan spied the big tortoise near Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. “When we see him he’s standing tall and craning his neck,” Ian wrote. Roberto, the expedition guide said in the hundreds of thousands of times he’d been he’d never seen anything like it.

In honour of Lonesome George, the park service said it was convening an international workshop in July on management strategies for restoring tortoise populations over the next decade.

The Galapagos Islands, situated about 1000km off Ecuador’s coast, is considered a haven for tortoises.