Lonesome George: A Tribute To My Hero

Tortoise Soup brings you an elegiac post today. There was very sad news today from South America, as the Charles Darwin Research Centre on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz confirmed the death of Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise. We will truly never see his like again.

The sun is out today but the mood is dark and sombre, one sole creature has died peacefully in his sleep but the world has become immeasurably poorer for his passing. Lonesome George was very much my hero. I was a contestant on television quiz show ‘The Chase’ earlier this year. When host Bradley Walsh asked me what I would do with any winnings my response was immediate and heartfelt. ‘I want to visit the Galapagos Islands to see Lonesome George’, I told him. Sadly I didn’t win the cash and now my dream will never come true in this world. Here is my tribute to the wonderful, beautiful tortoise that the world came to know and love.

I love tortoises, I have one of my own (a gorgeous Horsfield tortoise called Ovid) and of course my recently finished children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ stars an adventurous tortoise called Byron Tinker. My tortoise is very small (around four inches long) whereas George was absolutely huge (Charles Darwin used to ride on the back of similar tortoises on his groundbreaking tour of the islands) but in other ways they are very similar. When I see Ovid stretching his neck out to eat food he looks just like a miniature George.

Very little is known of George’s early life. He was ‘discovered’ on Pinta Island in 1972. This species of tortoise had been thought to be extinct for some time until he was found, and his discovery rocked the scientific world. George was moved to the nearby Charles Darwin Research Centre where efforts to save his species began.

Everything was done that could be done to find George a mate. With no Pinta Island female alive, they introduced him to tortoises from similar species of giant tortoises. He did mate with a female Wolf Island Tortoise but the eggs were infertile. He was then introduced to females from Espanola Island. The Espanola tortoise is genetically very similar to the Pinta tortoise and so hopes were high that there could be offspring. George however had different ideas, he just wasn’t attracted to the Espanola girls and refused to mate with them.
At this point the story gets a little, ahem, ‘steamy’ – young readers may want to look away now. A young Swedish conservationist was hired to ‘befriend’ Lonesome George and arouse him so that he would find his inclinations growing towards the Espanola tortoises. She spent four months getting ‘intimate’ with him but alas, George could not be roused.

The attempts didn’t stop there. A huge reward was offered to anybody who could find a Pinta Island female – there was the supposition that a private zoo somewhere in the world might have one in their collection. To date none has been found, and the reward remained unclaimed.

Scientists were also looking at the possibility of cloning Lonesome George. Mammals have been cloned with varying degrees of success (notably Dolly the sheep) but the concept of cloning a reptile such as George divided scientific opinion. Artifical insemination of one of the Espanola ladies was also considered, but again it is much more difficult to artificially inseminate an egg laying reptile so this proved unfruitful.

George lived an exciting life on Santa Cruz. He was once taken hostage by Ecuadorian rebels who stormed the research centre and threatened to blow Lonesome George up unless their demands were met. He was also held hostage in 1995 by fishermen who were enraged at cuts in their fishing quotas. A machete was held to George’s head until the government backed down.

So George survived all of these threats but not even George could defeat the march of time itself. His age is unknown but he was guessed to be in his nineties. The various species of Galapagos giants can live for around 200 years so Lonesome George’s death was untimely and unexpected. Perhaps he finally pined away? He achieved a lot: he became an icon for the conservation movement and brought much needed funds for various conservation charities. Thousands of tourists visited the Galapagos every year just to see this beautiful creature.

Run free in the heavens, Lonesome George, with others of your species at last. Humankind and our ravaged nature has destroyed another beautiful species of animal. I never got to see you in this world after all, but I do hope to see you and your friends one day when I too make the final journey.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ms spider
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 17:57:33

    a wunderful tribute to george!


  2. Trackback: The Wonder Of Tortoises « tortoisesoup

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