Pinta Island and Legendary Lonesome George

Located in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Pinta Island is an active shield volcano formed from a number of young volcanic cones, fissures and broad sheets of lava flow. The island has a surface area of around sixty square kilometers and is home to a variety of creatures including marine iguanas, sparrow hawks, swallow-tailed gulls and fur seals. In the past it was also home to a substantial population of tortoises, but due to a number of factors, including the introduction by man of vegetation destroying goats to the island, the population dwindled until all that was left of the Pinta Island tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was a solitary 100-year old tortoise named Lonesome George.

For his own safety, and in an effort to find Lonesome George a mate in the hopes of breeding, the old tortoise was moved to Santa Cruz Island where he is in the care of researchers at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Lonesome George has been declared to be the rarest creature in the world, primarily because he is considered to be the endling of his species – a term used when a creature is the last of its kind, resulting in the extinction of its species upon its death. He is also viewed as a symbol for international cooperation in conservation efforts.

The worldwide search for a mate of the exact same species has proven to be unsuccessful so far, which is not surprising as the Pinta Island tortoise was endemic to Pinta Island. The island is also known as Abingdon Island in honor of the Earl of Abingdon, hence the word abingdoni in the scientific name. However, tortoises with Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni ancestry have been found on Isabela island, suggesting that there must have been at least one of these rare tortoises on an island other than that of his/her birth. Attempts to get Lonesome George to breed with females from a closely related sub-species have led to the production of eggs, but sadly none of these eggs have hatched.

With around 100-years of his life past, it is estimated that under present protected living conditions Lonesome George could live for another fifty years or more, so breeding some offspring is still a possibility. In the meantime, a program of eradicating the feral goats on Pinta Island has been successful, and indigenous vegetation is starting to recover. It certainly would be a great accomplishment for dedicated conservationists if Pinta Island could once more become home to the Pinta Island tortoise.