It’s a sad fact, but sometimes slow and steady doesn’t win the race, even when you’re a tortoise.
Yesterday, the Galapagos Islands announced the death of Lonesome George, the last remaining La Pinta giant tortoise, who passed away over the weekend. Despite decades of conservation attempts, his subspecies is now officially extinct.
A native of the small island of La Pinta, Lonesome George was first discovered in the early 1970s, and had become a symbol for both the islands and for conservation efforts worldwide. Last year, more than 180,000 visitors traveled to the Galapagos, many to pay a visit to the 100-year-old tortoise, who was considered the rarest creature on Earth.
“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” said Edwin Naula, head of the Galapagos National Park. “His life cycle came to an end.”
Although Lonesome George was old in human terms, he was only middle-aged for his species, which can live up to 200 years. According to Galapagos National Park officials, a necropsy will be performed on his remains to determine his cause of death, although they do suspect natural causes.
Over the past 20 years, Lonesome George was the target of multiple breeding attempts; the park had been trying to find a suitable mate for him since 1993. Although he mated with females (from another tortoise subspecies) in his pen twice, the eggs were never viable.
The Galapagos tortoises have faced survival challenges ever since humans discovered the islands. Not only were they hunted for their meat — their slow speed made them an easy target — but in the case of the La Pinta tortoises, their habitat was destroyed by feral goats. When Lonesome George was found 40 years ago, he was the only one of his kind to survive the extreme loss of vegetation.
Although Lonesome George was the last of the La Pinta tortoises, approximately 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies remain in the islands.
Rest in peace, Lonesome George.