The Continued Legacy of Lonesome George

July 8, 2013

Over a year ago, the world lost Lonesome George, the iconic Pinta Island tortoise, and last of his kind.  Determined that George’s legacy would not be forgotten, the decision was made to preserve his body and have his story serve as the intellectual core, and frankly the heart of a new interpretation center in Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos. 

Lonesome George in his corral; photo by Tim Saxe.

The story of Lonesome George, while a cautionary tale about humankind’s unwitting but devastating impact on a species, also carries with it a sense of hope and optimism.  The captive breeding and repatriation of several species of giant tortoises has been an extraordinary success over nearly five decades.  Thousands of tortoises have been repatriated to their island of origin and are reproducing in the wild.  The genetics work undertaken by our colleagues at Yale University has inspired even more hope for endangered tortoise species.  Not long after George’s death, scientists confirmed that there were Pinta-island hybrid tortoises in the wild, giving conservation managers hope that a breeding program might allow the return of Pinta island tortoises to Pinta.  A fitting close to the circle that began with George’s discovery several decades ago. 

Galapagos Conservancy, working with the Galapagos National Park and scientists from around the world, has embarked on a multi-year, multi-institutional Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.  Determined that no species of Galapagos tortoise will meet the same fate as Lonesome George’s species, conservation managers, geneticists, veterinarians, and wildlife ecologists are working from both the species and ecosystem levels to ensure that giant tortoises, the “engineers” of island ecology in the Galapagos, will continue to thrive and prosper throughout the archipelago.

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