Lonesome George

It was sad to see this past week the death of Lonesome George, the last remaining of the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies of the Galapagos Islands. He was estimated as being 100 years old, though he may have been much older (or indeed, much younger). He had survived pirates and whalers coming to the islands and eating many of his co-species; goats and other animals introduced by man who ate their way through his habitat, and was even said to be in his prime. In spite of  years of attempts at introducing him to luring females of other similar sub-species, he was not able to produce any offspring (he did get close with a couple of mates laying eggs, but they failed to hatch) meaning that his particular gene line ended with him.

Baby giant tortoises… so small, but grow so big…

In the last decades, George was guest of the Charles Darwin Research Centre, alongside a number of other giant tortoises from other islands of the Galapagos. The Centre has a program of breeding tortoises from the islands that have been most affected by human influence and which are the most endangered. It is remarkable seeing their work, with the baby tortoises less than a foot long, and the adults who are just absolutely massive – over a metre long and almost a metre high (without their extending their necks or reaching up).

It is impressive though at the same time a sad reminder about how humans can really affect the environment. The environment on a couple of islands in the archipelago such as Baltra Island, where the main airport is, has been devastated: Baltra for example was used as an airforce base by the US during the Second World War, and with all the people and their pets, pretty much all the iguanas and native wildlife was destroyed. On Isabela Island, there is an infestation of Goiaba fruit trees – again, introduce by people. The Goiaba is almost like a weed in that it just proliferates and strangles out local trees. Birds like the fruit, though the hundreds of seeds spread straight through their digestive system and plant themselves everywhere. The young son of a guide we had on the island kept picking the fruit, half eating them, and then threw the rest away into the undergrowth. The guide did nothing.

Nice kitty…. lethal predator.

We saw a wild cat on Santa Cruz Island about a hundred metres away from us. Iguanas on the islands had never previously faced any top predators and were able to live a relaxed life of eating and sunning themselves. These creatures proved to be no match for the lethal instinct of such animals. Then there is of course global warming – the Islands are significantly affected by the cold Humbodlt current for example, which affects feeding of the animals – should this change with increased temperatures (as it is periodically with the El Nino phenomenon) then the consequences for all the animals.

It is great that the Ecuadorian government is trying to get control of the situation (the authorities and park rangers are meant to shoot to kill and wildcats or any other alien animals they see on islands), though there are still an enormous amount of human pressures from increasing local populations and also tourism that threaten the local wildlife. Education of locals, guides and tourists is incredibly important, to help increase the sense of responsibility all should feel, and further controls are needed to be enforced. Hopefully a balance between all the pressures will found, maintained, and hopefully there won’t be other tortoises who will die alone like Lonesome George, and there won’t be other species going extinct.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s