Icon of Conservation - Lonesome George Dies

lonesome georgeThe Galapagos National Park Service discovered yesterday morning, June 24th,  that Lonesome George had died in his pen , located in the Turtle Breeding Center Land Giants in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

Fausto Llerena, a long time park ranger who had been in charge of the tortoise pen for many years made the sad discovery at 08h00.  Though his exact age is unknown, scientists agree he was over 100 years old.    His body was moved to cold storage for preservation.  Today, the park service announced that George would be "stuffed" - and would likely be placed in a location where he'll be able to remind visitors of his particularly sad story, and inspire future conservation champions.

Lonesome George was found on Pinta island in 1972, when it was believed that the species of turtles on this island had already disappeared.  Since then the turtle has been part of a dogged captive breeding effort in the hopes of maintaining the species, or at least part of its genetic makeup.  Initially females of the species of Wolf volcano on Isabela Island were place with George - but the resulting eggs proved to be infertile.  Other efforts also failed.

Giant tortoises used to be found on islands in many parts of the world - but as humans began developing the capacity to sail and colonize islands, these tortoise populations died out.  Easy targest and apparently palatable eating, they had no chance to survive as earlier humans sought them out.  In Galapagos, whaling ships would regularly stop by and "stock up" on tortoises as fresh meat, easily conserved live in their ships' holds for months.   A few people on Isabela island are still known to eat a tortoise now and again, strictly in contravention to park rules.   Apart from Galapagos, giant tortoises survive only on the remote, unpopulated Aldabra atoll in the Seychellles islands, in the Indian ocean.

The plight of the Pinta Island tortoise species represented by Lonesome George has been a catalyst for the extraordinary effort made by the Ecuadorian government to restore not only turtle populations throughout the archipelago, but also to improve the conservation status other endangered species.  One artistic rendition of Lonesome George or another has been used as the logo for all kinds of organizations and projects. 

Edwin Naula, director of PNG, said that "in July this year, the GNP has planned an international workshop to develop the management strategy of turtle populations in the next ten years in order to achieve restoration. The workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George ".

His legacy will be a greater emphasis on research and management to restore Pinta island and all other populations of giant Galapagos tortoises.

CNH Tours had a special connection to Lonesome George - for 2 years, we lived just a 1 minute walk from his pen.  Our first child was born in Ecuador, and he also had the chance to see George and his mates on several occasions.    Heather Blenkiron was also charged with developing the Giant Tortoise interpretation material while she worked for the park and the Charles Darwin Research Station from 1998-2002.   We are sad to have to say goodbye to George, but are pleased to see how he has served as an icon for Galapagos conservation.

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