Galápagos Conservancy

How the Legacy of Lonesome George Can Help Galápagos Giant Tortoises

How the Legacy of Lonesome George Can Help Galápagos Giant Tortoises
Re-opening of Lonesome George Exhibit © Galápagos Conservancy

Lonesome George

The iconic Galápagos giant tortoise of the Chelonoidis abingdonii species, takes center stage in an exciting animated short film highlighting the importance of protecting endangered species. Produced by talented filmmakers Dorian Cambi and Andrés Montesinos, ”Lonesome George” is anticipated to be a valuable tool for raising awareness about the conservation of Galápagos giant tortoises.

George's story is a poignant one

Discovered on Pinta Island in 1971, the lone tortoise was considered the last known specimen of his kind. For decades, tireless efforts were made to find him a mate. Unfortunately, in June 2012, the sad news of his passing was announced, underscoring the fragility of biodiversity and urgency to protect endangered species.

George died without leaving any descendants

Despite relentless attempts by the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) to help him reproduce. Multiple efforts were made, including keeping him with females extracted from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. However, all the eggs obtained were infertile. Subsequent attempts with females from the Española Island species were also unsuccessful.

3D animation

Given this moving story, “Lonesome George” is expected to touch viewers while hopefully inspiring them to take action for wildlife conservation. The short film, created in 3D animation, emphasizes the importance of protecting endangered species and the vulnerability of ecosystems home to unique creatures like George.

Lonesome George's legacy lives on even after his passing

Following his death, his remains underwent taxidermy at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and he returned to Galápagos in February 2017. Since then, George can be viewed in the Symbol of Hope Hall at the GNPD’s giant tortoise breeding center on Santa Cruz Island as a reminder of the irreversible actions humans can sometimes take.

The Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, managed by the GNPD in collaboration with Galápagos Conservancy, is a key location for learning about the conservation of Galápagos giant tortoises. Since the center opened in 1965, captive rearing has been crucial in restoring tortoise populations. These rearing centers are a conservation tool where reproduction, incubation, rearing, and refuge are provided for the hatchlings, allowing them to grow safely for up to five years. Once the juvenile tortoises have the necessary physical conditions to survive, they are released onto their home islands.

Galápagos Conservancy’s role

As a strategic partner of the GNPD is pivotal. We support conservation efforts for endangered Galápagos giant tortoise populations and lead programs to reintroduce tortoises to their natural habitats, enabling them to live freely and fulfill their role as “ecosystem engineers,” restoring life to their island homes.

How the Legacy of Lonesome George Can Help Galápagos Giant Tortoises
George is a 3D animated short film set in the iconic Galápagos archipelago in Ecuador, and is based on the life of Lonesome George, known for being the last giant tortoise of his species. ©

Galápagos giant tortoises are a global icon of conservation

Therefore, in 2022, we launched the virtual Adopt a Giant Tortoise program. This unique program forges a lifelong connection between an individual or family and a giant tortoise. Galápagos giant tortoises can live for more than a century, which means children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of adopters will have a lifelong bond with Galápagos and, more importantly, a deep connection to wildlife conservation. Tortoise adopters can name their tortoise and access a personalized page with biannual updates about their adopted tortoise until its release into the wild.

We commend the producers of “Lonesome George” for contributing to Galápagos Conservancy’s and the GNPD’s ongoing efforts to safeguard endangered species for the long term. The captivating short film will be a valuable educational tool for teaching the importance of protecting fragile ecosystems and their unique species, like George. Together, we move closer to a future where Galápagos giant tortoises and other endangered species can thrive, keeping our ecosystems healthy so they continue to provide services for humanity.