Lonesome George Tortoise is the last member of its kind and is the living symbol of the Galapagos Islands.
This Galapagos Tortoise was found alone in 1972 on Pinta Island and brought immediately to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
A last member of its kind (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni), a male tortoise was found alone on his home Galapagos Island Pinta in the early seventies.
He was named Jorge, or George in English, by the park wardens that took care of him.
The word soon spread that George was a living extinction unless a female was found for him to reproduce.
Hopes to find a suitable partner for George have been futile over the years, so two genetically similar female tortoises of Isabela Island (genetically and physically close to La Pinta Tortoises) share his pen with him.
For years, George has shown little if any attraction to these females and hopes to save the species had dropped systematically.
In 1972 an invertebrate expert noticed and photographed a giant tortoise which was close by as he was crouched studying land snails. He had no idea the impact his photograph would have over the next decades.
Upon his return to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, epicenter of scientific research and headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Administration, his photo triggered an immediate mission to La Pinta Island to find the depicted tortoise.
Up until then, everyone believed the tortoises from the Island had unfortunately become extinct.
His caretaker named him Jorge (George), and due to the fact that he was as far as anyone knew the only known living tortoise from la Pinta Island, he soon became known as Lonesome George.
Over the years, he has become an icon of conservation, the Galapagos National Park symbol and logo, and is, without any doubt, the world's most famous living reptile.
Since 1972, various intensive searches have been carried out to find more La Pinta giant tortoises, ideally a female in order to save the species from extinction. This worldwide search has included private collections and zoos.
Whalers and sealers heavily depleted their numbers in the 19th century, some ships taking many tortoises at a time.
Galapagos giant tortoises were a good food source as they could live up to a year in the holds of the ships without food and water.
Females were generally taken first as they are much smaller than the males and could be found in the more accessible lowland areas during the egg laying season.
Before Lonesome George was found, the last reported sighting of tortoises on Pinta Island was in 1906, when the Island was visited by the Californian Academy of Sciences.
They collected three males, which were the last tortoises seen on Pinta Island for the next 66 years.
There is the possibility that other tortoises could exist on George's native Pinta Island of Pinta.
Young tortoises are very small and secretive, and any young tortoises present when George was removed from Pinta Island would most likely have been overlooked.
These Galapagos tortoises would now be adults and technically easier to find, except that the vegetation of Pinta Island has responded vigorously to the removal of goats (which were previously destroying this vegetation).
Pinta Island is now very hard to get around, and a major campaign must be undertaken to systematically cover the Island and definitively conclude that there are no remaining Pinta tortoises to use as a mate for Lonesome George.
When "Lonesome George" eventually dies, his race ends with him, and will join the other races of giant tortoises that have become extinct in the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station have eradicated introduced goats from Pinta Island.
There is hope for the recovery of Pinta Island as there is hope that one day Lonesome George will find its mate.
In the meantime, the biggest challenge the Island is facing is having lost its vital herbivore a situation that critically affects the delicate alliance between flora and fauna.
Without La Pinta tortoises to fill this niche, an alternative flourished.
In 2010 thirty nine tortoises, all reproductively sterile, and equipped with the latest technological advances in satellite tracking systems, were liberated on Pinta Island during this expedition.
For the first ten weeks, a team of scientists will escort and monitor the adaptation of the tortoises to their new habitat.
These are the first tortoises roaming over La Pinta Island in 38 years: a milestone of conservation in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.
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