Remembering “Lonesome George” by Saving Other Galápagos Tortoises

Lonesome George (file photo)

Galápagos National Park

Lonesome George (file photo)

The Ministry of Environment of Ecuador and the Galápagos National Park announced in a press release that they have planned a special remembrance of Lonesome George, the last of the species of giant tortoise from Pinta Island. When Lonesome George died on June 24, 2012, he became the face of extinction for his species.

According to the statement, “the Galápagos National Park and the Ministry of Environment,  working with the organization Galapagos Conservancy, will reintroduce 205 giant tortoises to the island of Santa Fé” after the last tortoises there disappeared 150 years ago.

Some of the 205 tortoises ready to travel to Santa Fe Island

Dr. James Gibbs / Galápagos Conservancy

Some of the 205 tortoises ready to travel to Santa Fe Island

The news release said the operation will take place on Saturday June 27, 2015 and will be a symbolic tribute to the memory of Lonesome George. “In Ecuador, we tried very hard to preserve this species, but time was not on our side,”  said Lorena Tapia, Minister of Environment of Ecuador.

“Even after his death, Lonesome George is a symbol of the efforts invested by the country and the international scientific community to conserve endangered species,” said the statement of the Park and the Environment Ministry. On Santa Fé, scientists and park officials are employing a new tactic. Because the original Santa Fé tortoises are extinct, the new ones that will be introduced actually hail from Española Island.  The scientific name for their species is Chelonoidis hoodensis (after “Hood,” the name English navigators gave to Española).

According to the president of the Galápagos Conservancy, Johannah Barry, “Genetic analyses have confirmed that the Española tortoise is most closely related to the extinct species from Santa Fé Island.  Hence, Española tortoises will be used as a substitute species to resurrect a tortoise population on Santa Fé.”

She added that: “It may sound faintly like the archipelago’s answer to Jurassic Park, but it is a solid, scientific endeavor involving the excellent work of geneticists at Yale University, field work by Galápagos National Park personnel and many scientists over the years, and leadership by our own staff and adjunct scientists, to restore tortoise populations on several islands.”

Tortoises being weighed at the breeding center

Dr. James Gibbs / Galápagos Conservancy

Tortoises being weighed at the breeding center

The young tortoises that will be transported to Santa Fé were bred in captivity at the Galápagos National Park’s Fausto Llerena Breeding Center  on the island of Santa Cruz. The park reports that in preparation for their journey, the tortoises “went through a process of measuring, weighing, marking and placing identification chips to track their development in the wild. Of these, about 40 have a GPS that will provide data on routes, movements and activities of tortoises on the island. ”

As we reported in Galápagos Digital, Lonesome George’s body was sent to New York where he was embalmed at the laboratory of George Dante taxidermy. He was exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in New York from September 19, 2014 to January 4, 2015. Since then the body has been under the expert care of Mr. Dante who, according to the park, recently reported that George is undergoing additional preservation procedures that will take 4 months to complete.

After that, according to the official statement, George “will be ready for the trip back home, the Fausto Llerena Center where he lived the last 40 years of his life.”