Lonesome George, the 100-year-old, world-famous Galapagos giant tortoise who became the symbol of the richly diverse Galapagos Islands, has died.
As the last-of-his-kind from Pinta Island, George was the ambassador for the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands and, in a sense, a living memorial of its destruction.
"Lonesome" George – so named because he was the last known individual of his subspecies – was found lifeless by his caretaker at the watering hole in his enclosure at the Charles Darwin Research Station on 24 June 2012. And with his death, the giant tortoise subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni nigra is now extinct.
The giant tortoise actually came from Pinta Island where it was discovered in 1972 as the only survivor of its kind.
Giant tortoises were captured and slaughtered in huge numbers by sailors for their meat. And settlers introduced goats and pigs onto the island, which made life difficult for the tortoises because they competed for their food. In addition, rats dug out the eggs of reptiles and the tortoise subspecies was declared extinct until a goatherd discovered the over 100 year-old and around 90 kilogram heavy George as the last of its kind.
Lonesome George was a symbolic figure native to Ecuador's Pinta Island in the Galapagos island chain, whose unique flora and fauna inspired British scientist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in the 19th century.
Time and again scientists sought to save George's genes at least in part by bringing him female tortoises from related subspecies and neighbouring islands, but George steadfastly refused to fertilise the females' eggs.
The extinction of yet another species in this unique location is dramatic. In 1835, during Charles Darwin's research expeditions, there were still 15 species of the giant tortoise. Lonesome George's death raises the number of extinct species to five. The remaining 10 are spread out over 1,000 kilometres west from these South American islands. Researchers had expected that Lonesome George would still live a few more decades.
In order to honour Lonesome George's legacy, all of us are obliged to effectively protect the islands' unique biological communities in the long-term and to ensure that more surviving species do not suffer his fate and disappear forever.