Friday 28 February 2014

A Tribute to Lonesome George

Lonesome George
Lonesome George
Lonesome George has died.  I like to think that he moved from Paradise on Earth to another kind of Paradise.

Lonesome George I’ve been to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island at least 100 times. Each time George drew me in with his big black/brown sleepy eyes and his long neck. As he dawdled in the leaves, lumbered to his watering hole and lazed in the sun or shade, I wondered about him. Obviously he didn't think in words; neither English nor Spanish popped into his brain. But I observed that he experienced something, interacting with his surroundings, making decisions and providing sustenance for himself. He never seemed phased by our staring at him or studying him. He didn't seem to mind when we became paparazzi and took his picture for posterity.
Lonesome George’s life was full and varied. He experienced upheaval. He learned to intermingle with others outside of his comfort zone, both human and reptilian. He was exposed to dramatic changes in his environment and surroundings. He was poked and prodded. Yet, he endured.

He never rushed, that’s for sure. And he was stubborn to a fault. But was he actually lonesome? I’m not so sure about that. I think that he instinctively operated under some innate reptilian wisdom he gained in his 100 years of life.

Lonesome GeorgeLonesome GeorgeIt’s been a highlight of every trip that I lead when we visit Lonesome George and talk about his personal journey. I imagine with my tour group what happened to him and the others of his subspecies before he was rescued from Pinta Island. We wonder how he came to be the sole survivor. Now things will surely be different. Something iconic and steadfast is gone.

Lonesome George was the last known living Galapagos Islands tortoise of his Pinta subspecies. Scientists found him in the early 1970’s and soon determined there were no others like him. Through attrition and the passage of time not only all of the males but all of the females who may have become his mate and continued to propagate the species died. After George his entire lineage is now extinct.

The phenomenon of the dwindling tortoise population occurred not only on Pinta Island, but throughout the Galapagos archipelago. Much of this, we know, was the fault of pirates who killed or captured the animals for their shells, oil or meat. Other attrition was due to predators which were not indigenous to the Islands, like goats. In this manner the tortoise population on the Islands went from about 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970’s. When there were once more than 15 distinct Galapagos tortoise species and subspecies, now there are only about 8. Many are endangered; most are the subject of current research.

Lonesome GeorgeAs awareness of the possible extinction of the Galapagos Tortoise population grew, the Charles Darwin Research Station was built in the 1960’s as a preserve and breeding station. Lonesome George was brought there for his protection and, hopefully, to propagate. And George had become widely regarded as the number one celebrity attraction of the Galapagos Islands. Even in death he will remain a symbol of the conservation efforts of these islands generally and of tortoise preservation more specifically.

Lonesome George
But what of our friend Lonesome George? Despite concerted efforts, George never successfully mated with a female outside of his species, no matter how beautiful she might be. He tried, but to no avail. Another large and very handsome tortoise named Diego has had different and much more successful results. Diego has become a prolific breeder with more than 2000 progeny to his credit.

Lonesome GeorgeWhich brings me back to where I started - with George. He was at least 100 years old. In his lifetime, he saw more and experienced more than most of us ever will. The old man changed over time. I observed that each time I visited. But he was inspirational too. For a very long time he was a survivor. He was one of a kind. He was and always will be one very special guy.

No comments :

Post a Comment