Published June 26th, 2012
Sadly, a conservation icon is no more. Keeper and Galapagos Park Warden Fausto Llerena found Lonesome George dead in his corral at the Galapagos Park Headquarters in Puerto Ayora on Sunday morning. Estimated to be 100 years old, Lonesome George seemed to be just fine, apparently on his way across the pen when he died. Part of the team that discovered this last remaining tortoise on Pinta Island in 1972, keeper and park warden Llerena wore a black ribbon as a sign of mourning at the news conference. The park reports that the body of the iconic tortoise will be preserved at the center piece of a new interpretation center for the Galapagos tortoise breeding program. Many thousands of visitor’s spent time with Lonesome George over the 39 years he was at the station. Since Lonesome George produced no offspring (despite the best efforts of park personnel to tempt him with females from related sub-species), Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni is no more. You can read more about it, and donate, at the excellent Galapagos Conservancy web site. President Johannna Barry and tortoise researcher Linda Cayot were both in Puerto Ayora on Sunday when Lonesome George died.
Henry Nicholls put Lonesome George at the center of his first book, Lonesome George, The Life and Loves of the World’s Most Famous Tortoise, an utterly engaging, witty look at conservation, the Galapagos and our changing attitudes toward nature.
Nicholls writes: “Lonesome George’s enclosure is a grand affair, clearly designed for the créme de la tortoise créme. He (and his female co-habitées) have free reign over a comfortable area of the research station. There is plenty of vegetation in which George can find the privacy he evidently seeks, tree-like cacti and a large pool wherein he is free to bathe (should he wish to venture out into the open) … When the warden enters his enclose bearing edible gifts, George will march out from the shrub cover to meet him or her, brimming with Hungry confidence. Then, and often only then, it is possible to get a really good look at his 90-kg hulk.”
Nicholls’ second book, The Way of the Panda, is out in paper. In the book he charts the rich and curious history of the giant panda from its scientific discovery in 1869 to potent symbol of conservation, not incidentally showing along the way the rise of modern China itself to global power.