Pinta Tortoise Goes Extinct, Conservation Efforts Increase in Galapagos

Yesterday, Lonesome George, last of the Pinta tortoise subspecies, died at an estimated age of over 100 years.

Leaving no baby Pintas to carry on his legacy, this subspecies has officially become extinct.

According to BBC news, George was found dead in his corral at the Charles Darwin Research Station, headquarters for the Charles Darwin Foundation, yesterday by Fausto Llerena, his keeper of 40 years. The Galapagos National Park Service, chief partner of the CDRS, stated she was among those who first spotted him in 1971 on the island of Pinta.

Until that point, scientists had thought his subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was already extinct from depredation by humans and invasive species (a.k.a. goats).

George was discovered as a result of the establishment of the CDRS, in conjunction with the GNPS, and their initial commitment to close research and management of endemic species in the region in 1959. Since then they have worked to regenerate the tortoise populations through the regeneration of habitat, breeding in captivity and the education of local people.

Though George now represents the end of one subspecies, around 20,000 giant tortoise and other subspecies still remain in the Galapagos, according to BBC news.

The value of the archipelago can be seen in its wealth of biodiversity within its species. Each distinct island has influenced the evolution of subspecies in unique ways that allow populations to survive extreme and volatile environments. (That includes temperatures that clime upwards of 100 degrees, years of scorching droughts followed by flooding downpours and hurricanes, plus volcanic eruptions!)

These visible differences in subspecies aided in the formation of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, hence the title of the foundation and research station. They remain an invaluable site for the research and study of evolution.

Though the loss of the Pinta tortoise represents a major set back to conservationists in the region, the event may be seen as a needed wake-up call to the government.