Famous for its various species of giant tortoises, the Galapagos Islands is home to about 20,000 individual tortoises. But one of these, Lonesome George, stood out from the crowd. He was first found in 1972 and was believed to be the last of his sub-species (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni). Conservationists tried for years to get him to mate with females from a similar sub-species, but to no avail, even putting up a reward of $10,000 for anyone who found a suitable mate. Just like Ling Ling and Tong Tong, the giant pandas famous in the 1990’s, no offspring were ever produced.
Sadly Lonesome George has recently died, found dead by his keeper who had looked after him for forty years. He was thought to be about a hundred years old which is relatively young as his sub-species can live to two hundred. The Galapagos tortoises demonstrate the phenomenon of ‘gigantism’ which occurs in some species when they evolve on isolated islands. In the late 19th century sailors and fishermen arrived and hunted the tortoises for their meat and almost drove them to extinction. George was very popular with the 180,000 or so tourists who choose a Galapagos holiday each year and the Ecuadorian people even had an image of him on their bank notes and stamps.
Simon Reeve visited Lonesome George before his death whilst filming the BBC series Equator – watch the video below.