Giant tortoises are probably the most emblematic species of the Galapagos, but unfortunately they are among the most affected directly and indirectly by the presence of humans in the archipelago. According to historical records, despite more than 50 years of efforts by the Government of Ecuador and a series of international organizations to achieve the recovery of their populations, today, in Galapagos there are only 11 species that are the survivors and only between 10-20% of the number of turtles that inhabited the islands until about 300 years ago.
There was haughtiness and curiosity in his eyes. With its neck and legs stretched out, it reached a height of 1.30 m. The skin denoted old age because it was hard, wrinkled and not very elastic, although that did not say his age, but the huge saddle-shaped shell that he carried on his back. A unique shell of its kind due to the pronounced arches that allowed its limbs and neck to emerge from that cavity.
This was the image of Lonesome George, an iconic image that remains in the memory of those who knew him and that remains, almost intact, after its embalming.
Undoubtedly the saddest story has been that of the Pinta Island turtle species (Chelonoidis abingdonii), whose last survivor was Lonesome George. His disappearance shocked many human beings around the world who visited him and learned about his story. Since his discovery in Pinta and the subsequent 40 years at the Breeding Center in Santa Cruz, Solitaire George became an icon of conservation, became the benchmark in the fight for the survival of species on a planet that needs of a collective conscience that looks with greater respect to nature.
Technicians and scientists entertained the possibility of saving their species, they knew of the urgency of working, investigating and finding a way to guarantee their reproduction. During decades of work and multiple efforts were truncated when on the morning of June 24, 2012, “Don Fausto”, the park ranger who took care of him, found his lifelong friend dead.
In a letter from Walter Bustos, Director of the Galapagos National Park in 2017, he said: “I remember his face that morning, his expression gave account of the day that nobody wanted to arrive, the inevitable happened, a species had become extinct to forever”.
The Lonely George died as a result of the wear and tear of age, although his biological role had ended, a new stage of his existence began the same day of his death. Now George, an icon of the fight for extinction, has shown that there are actions of human beings that, even when they are involuntary, can inevitably lead to the extinction of species.
In this sense, his legacy is a reminder that the human being himself is the only one who has the ability to develop all possible actions so that other species do not suffer the same fate.
Here is a bit of his story as told by By Linda J. Cayot, Galapagos Scientific Advisor