A tortoise that was loved by so many that his face appeared on Ecuador’s bank notes and stamps died Sunday, June 24. Known as Lonesome George, he was believed to be 100 years old, although there is speculation surrounding his actual age. Despite his age, his death comes as a bit of a surprise since he was expected to potentially live to 200, according to a report by the Guardian.
Lonesome George was the last known member of the Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii subspecies of the giant Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra), meaning the subspecies is now effectively extinct. A necropsy will be performed to determine the actual cause of death. His keeper, Fausto Llerena, observed normal behavior from George in the morning. He said George was climbing rocks when he last saw him. When he stopped by to check in on the tortoise later, he was dead.
George’s existence was an inspiration for biodiversity restoration and conservationists worldwide.
Many Galápagos tortoises can thank George for their lives. “Because of George’s fame, Galápagos tortoises which were down to just a few animals on some islands have recovered their populations,” said Richard Knab of the Galápagos Conservancy to the Guardian. “He opened the door to finding new genetic techniques to help them breed and showed the way to restore habitats.”
Unfortunately, George’s own reproduction efforts were unsuccessful. Artificial insemination did not work, a $10,000 reward by the Ecuadorean government for a suitable mate was unsuccessful, and the company of two female tortoises only resulted in duds. When in 2008 and 2009 he did unexpectedly mate with one of his two companions, none of the eggs hatched, though the two clutches were collected and incubated.
George’s legacy will live on as his body will likely be preserved and displayed at the Galápagos Conservancy for the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit the island yearly.
Image from putneymark on the flickr Creative Commons