During a press conference this morning at Park headquarters in Santa Cruz, Galapagos National Park Service officials reported that the last surviving tortoise from the island of Pinta, known worldwide as “Lonesome George,” had died on Sunday morning, possibly of a heart attack, since he was found in a position indicating that he was walking at the time of death.
A group of specialists, including veterinarians, scientists, technicians, and park guards initiated the necropsy earlier today to confirm the cause of death of the tortoise, which had eaten normally on Friday and Saturday and did not show any signs of sickness or deterioration of health.
During the 39 years Lonesome George remained at the Breeding Center, the Galapagos National Park Service made numerous attempts to encourage reproduction. He initially shared his corral with two female tortoises (Chelonoides becky) from Wolf volcano on the island of Isabela. After 15 years they copulated and the females laid a total of 16 eggs which all proved infertile. Subsequent genetic analysis confirmed that the species most closely related to George was the Española tortoise, and for the last two years female Española tortoises have accompanied him in his corral.
Edwin Naula, Director of the National Park Service, reported that once the necropsy is completed and physiological samples are taken and preserved, the body of Lonesome George will be embalmed and exhibited in an interpretation center that will be built and dedicated exclusively to giant tortoises. This center will bear Lonesome George’s name.
The death of Lonesome George occurred on the eve of the arrival of dozens of scientists and specialists who will participate in a much anticipated workshop organized by the Park Service to develop strategies for the recovery and management of tortoise populations over the next 10 years.
The death of Lonesome George has been the source of considerable sadness among employees at the Park Service. During the press conference, park warden Fausto Llerena, who participated in the 1972 expedition that discovered Lonesome George and who later became George’s caretaker at the Tortoise Breeding Center in Puerto Ayora, was visibly affected by the loss and wore a black ribbon as a sign of mourning.
Over the course of 40 years, the warden and the tortoise became very close and familiar with one another. Fausto remembers how each day George would stretch his neck as if to greet him. While he laments the loss, Fausto is determined to continue his work with the same enthusiasm that he and the other park wardens feel about the conservation of these species.
Prepared by Galapagos National Park Public Relations.
Translation by Galapagos Conservancy.
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GC Conservation Note: Galapagos Conservancy is working closely with the Galapagos National Park on the organization of the tortoise workshop to happen in July,and will be funding the participation of international experts.
If you would like to help support this effort in honor of Lonesome George, we invite you to make a donation and designate “Lonesome George Memorial Fund” in your donation notes.