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Lonesome George dies in Galapagos
Staff at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador say Lonesome George, a giant tortoise believed to be the last of its subspecies, has died. Scientists estimate he was about 100 years old.
Park officials said they would carry out a post-mortem to determine the cause of his death.
With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies left, Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world.
For decades, environmentalists unsuccessfully tried to get the Pinta Island tortoise to reproduce with females from a similar subspecies on the Galapagos Islands. Park officials said the tortoise was found dead in his corral by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llerena.
Tortoises in trouble: While his exact age was not known, Lonesome George was estimated to be about 100, which made him a young adult as the subspecies can live up to an age of 200.
Lonesome George was first seen by a Hungarian scientist on the Galapagos island of Pinta in 1972. Environmentalists had believed his subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) had become extinct. Lonesome George became part of the Galapagos National Park breeding programme.
After 15 years of living with a female tortoise from the nearby Wolf volcano, Lonesome George did mate, but the eggs were infertile.
He also shared his corral with female tortoises from Espanola island, which are genetically closer to him than those from Wolf volcano, but Lonesome George failed to mate with them. He became a symbol of the Galapagos Islands, which attract some 180,000 visitors a year. Galapagos National Park officials said that with George's death, the Pinta tortoise subspecies has become extinct.
They said his body would probably be embalmed to conserve him for future generations. Tortoises were plentiful on the Galapagos Islands until the late 19th century, but were later hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction. Their habitat furthermore suffered when goats were introduced from the mainland.
The differences in appearance between tortoises from different Galapagos islands were among the features which helped the British naturalist Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. Some 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies still live on the Galapagos.
Tortoise Release Part of Pinta Island Restoration
Team of Veterinarians Prepare Hybrid Tortoises for Release on Pinta Island in 2010
In November 2009, a group of veterinarians, working with the Galapagos National Park (GNP), prepared 39 hybrid tortoises slated to be the pioneer group to initiate the return of tortoises to Pinta Island. Project Pinta is a multi-year project aimed at the restoration of the island following the successful eradication of goats on Pinta in 2003. While complete island restoration will require the eventual repopulation of Pinta with a reproductive tortoise population, scientists and managers are awaiting the final results from genetic analyses of a massive sampling of tortoises before making the final selection of which tortoises to use.
The Galápagos in finals of global contest New 7 Wonders of Nature
Ecuador's amazing Galapagos Islands, the impressive Iguazú Falls in Argentina and Brazil and the mighty Amazon Rainforest (shared by 9 Latin American countries) are among the 28 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of Nature contest. The finalists were announced on July 21st, and in the next two years, experts will tour the sites to determine the 7 winners in 2011.
Other Latin America wonders that made the finals are El Yunque in Puerto Rico and Angel Falls in Venezuela.
The New 7 Wonders campaign was started by Bernard Weber, a Swiss filmmaker and entrepreneur, with the aim of promoting cultural diversity and preserving natural sites. The 28 finalists were chosen by a panel of experts that included Federico Mayor, former chief of UNESCO, and Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International.
Your vote will make a difference! Voting has now resumed in order to choose the definitive New 7 Wonders of Nature, please click at the bottom to vote for Galapagos and the Amazon Rainforest.