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Lonesome George

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Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise, is a sub-species of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni). He is probably the last of his kind, and when he dies, the Pinta Island tortoise will become extinct and one more creature will disappear from our planet. All this makes Lonesome George the rarest animal in the world today.

George was born on the small island of Pinta, in the north of the Galapagos archipelago sometime in the 1920/30s. He was found on his own on the island in 1972 by Galapagos National Park wardens and was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz - one of the 54 Galapagos National Park Visitor’s Sites of the islands. George was named after the US actor George Goebel, who had coined the phrase, 'Lonesome George', in a television interview.

The decimation of the Pinta tortoises is thought to have been caused by whalers hunting for a source of fresh meat, and was not helped by the introduction of goats by fishermen in the 1950s as an alternative source of food. The goat population grew rapidly eating much of the island's vegetation and causing erosion thus becoming serious competition for the tortoises' food supply.

A large-scale culling of the goats and other introduced species has helped the affected islands begin to re-establish the vegetation, but alas it may be too late for George. Hopefully, a full-scale search of the Pinta Island will find a mate for this sad reptile. Any young on the island would have been so small as to be overlooked when George was captured, and until a search has taken place, there is still a possibility of finding a mate.

In the meantime, George has not been without female companionship, tortoises from Wolf Volcano, on Isabela Island, were placed in his corral to keep him company. These females, while not of the same subspecies, were hoped to be close enough to be acceptable to George, and though he has tried, as yet no eggs have been forthcoming. It was hoped that any young would have characteristics as close as possible to the Pinta, and it is not known why the two subspecies have not produced offspring. It is thought that the problem might be the genetic 'distance' between the two tortoises.

So George remains the last of his kind, zoos have even offered a $10,000 reward for a female Pinta tortoise; the money so far has yet to be claimed. Only time will tell if this giant reptile, whose ancestors walked with dinosaurs, will forever be known as the rarest animal in the world and the most lonesome of them all.

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