Before a species goes extinct, there must be one last survivor. Often that final individual slips away unknown, but for the Pinta Island tortoise from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, that survivor was this male, known as Lonesome George. When he died of natural causes, his species, Chelonoidis abingdoni, vanished.
All About Lonesome George
Species: Last documented member of Chelonoidis abingdoni, native to Pinta Island
Age: Thought to be more than 100 years old
Diet: Cactus, shrubs, grasses, and broad-leaved plants
Turtle vs. tortoise? Tortoises are turtles that live exclusively on land.
Did you know? Lonesome George—the lone tortoise of his species for at least 40 years—was named after a famous 1950s American TV comedian, George Gobel, who called himself “Lonesome George.”
Notable traits: An extremely long neck and a “saddle-backed” shell that rises slightly in front, like a saddle
Weight: About 165 lbs (75 kg); males of various species of Galapagos tortoises can exceed 660 lbs (300 kg) and are the largest living tortoises
A New Home
In 1971, a Hungarian scientist spotted Lonesome George on Pinta Island. The discovery surprised researchers who thought Pinta Island tortoises were already extinct. A year later, George was taken to the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center on Santa Cruz Island, where he lived for the next 40 years.
Saving Lonesome George
Staff at the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station tried repeatedly to mate Lonesome George with females from closely related species. Those efforts failed, but a new strategy to revive the species is underway. The discovery of hybrid tortoises partially descended from Pinta Island tortoises on Isabela Island, where whalers or pirates likely moved them long ago, provides the opportunity for establishing a breeding colony whose young will initiate the recovery of a reproductive population on Pinta.