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In honor of Lonesome George: restoring giant tortoises to Santa Fe Island

June 24, 2015

Lonesome George
Lonesome George passed away on June 24, 2012, in his corral at the
Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz Island.

Lonesome George, the last individual of the Pinta Island tortoise species, was found on his home island of Pinta in 1972 and transferred to the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz, where he remained until his death on June 24, 2012. During his life in captivity, all attempts to get Lonesome George to reproduce were unsuccessful.

Lonesome George’s legacy was discussed during the international tortoise workshop in July 2012, and the goal of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and Galapagos Conservancy is, in part, to ensure that such a loss never occurs again. On Saturday, June 27, the GNPD and GC staff will return giant tortoises to Santa Fe, the start to a long-term repopulation of that island with its dominant herbivore.

Giant tortoises have been extinct on Santa Fe since the mid-1800s.  A total of 205 juvenile tortoises of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis of Española Island, which are morphologically and genetically similar to the extinct Santa Fe species, will be released. These tortoises range from four to ten years old.

Young tortoises bound for Santa Fe.
The tortoises are offspring of the adult Española breeding group at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz. Each tortoise was measured, weighed, and marked externally and with a microchip for future monitoring. Radio telemetry tags will be attached to thirty young tortoises, and follow-up monitoring will be conducted quarterly to relocate these animals, providing information on their dispersal.

The Legacy of Lonesome George 
Currently, the embalmed body of Lonesome George remains in the taxidermy laboratory of George Dante in New Jersey following a three-month exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History last year. Dante informed the Ministry of the Environment that Lonesome George will be ready to return home in about 120 days, after which he will be returned to the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center where he lived the last 40 years of his life.

Excerpts translated with permission from the Galapagos National Park.


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