Galapagos Wildlife: “Lonesome George” Tortoise Lonely No More

Text by Laura Buckley

The rarest living creature on Earth may soon become a proud papa—and oldest natural father on record, according to the Galapagos Conservancy and NPR.

If you’ve traveled to the Galapagos Islands within the last 30 years, you’ve only been privy to one Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, whom Darwin Station scientists have delightfully dubbed “Lonesome George,” the last of its subspecies. But hopefully that’ll all change in about 120 days, when the five eggs recently found in his pen hatch.

A type of giant tortoise, scientists have unsuccessfully been playing matchmaker with George in Galapagos National Park since the 1970s. At 198 pounds, the Geochelone nigra abingdoni has been slow in finding his mate. But now that he’s come into his sexual peak at the ripe age of 90 (they can live until 150 years old), George has become downright frisky. Last year he mated for the first time in 36 years, but the eggs laid were unfortunately infertile. The recent introduction of two female giant tortoises of another subspecies, however, has obviously caused George to get his groove on.

Despite the joyful news, Lonesome George’s tale tells a more serious story about the impact humans have had on the Galapagos ecosystem. Central to Darwin’s theory of evolution, it is believed there were more than 100,000 Galapagos tortoises and 15 subspecies when man arrived on the islands.

But because tortoises can live up to a year with little food or necessities, they were prime meat for sailors, who then introduced goats on the islands so the fishermen could consume goat meat instead. This was just more bad news for the tortoise, as the goats ate the few tortoises left. In order to curb the likely extinction of the Galapagos staple, the Galapagos National Park Service began a program to eradicate the goats, and the Charles Darwin Research Station began a tortoise-rearing project in the 1970s, collecting endangered tortoise eggs from other islands to put in a captive breeding program.

Today, about 20,000 giant tortoises live on the Galapagos—and, hopefully, George's Pinta legacy will also live on.

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