Lonesome George not lonely after all

Lonesome George not lonely after all

QUITO - Agence France-Presse
Lonesome George not lonely after all

The Lonesome George, the last turtle of its subspecies is seen at the Galapagos National Park. Scientists found genes of the species that he belonged to. EPA photo

When Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise, died in June in the Galapagos, the world mourned the demise of a species. A report Nov. 21, however, says that George was not lonely after at all. There are at least 17 tortoises on the Galapagos Islands that have similar genetic traits to George, including some that may be from his same genus, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement.

George’s June 24 death “does not represent the end of the Chelonoidis abingdonii species of Pinta Island giant tortoises,” the statement said.

He died when he was 100

The Galapagos, located some 1,000 kilometers off Ecuador’s coast, is an archipelago of 13 islands and more than 100 rocks and micro-islands. The islands were uninhabited when Europeans first visited in the 16th century, and today has a population of around 25,000.

Lonesome George, who was believed to be 100 years old when he died, was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were believed to be extinct. Research conducted with Yale University experts “identified nine females, three males and five youths with genes of the Pinta Island giant tortoise species,” the statement read.

Researchers analyzed more than 1,600 DNA samples taken in 2008 from tortoises living on the Wolf Volcano, on Isabella Island, to George’s DNA and samples taken from the Pinta tortoise museum.
The results means that there could be “additional hybrids on the Wolf Volcano, and even individuals on Pinta that could be pure,” the statement read.

Experts estimate there were once some 300,000 giant tortoises on the remote Pacific archipelago, but the species was decimated by whalers and pirates in the 18th and 19th century, who took them aboard their ships as fresh food and introduced new predators. Today there are about between 30,000 and 40,000 tortoises of 10 different species on the Galapagos. A more complete report on the find will be published in the journal Biological Conservation.