Allow me to present you to Lonesome George, who was the last (male) Pinta Island tortoise living in the Galápagos Islands (1910- June 24, 2012).
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When I studied abroad in Ecuador, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic islands that straddle the equator to the west of Ecuador’s coast in the Pacific. There, at the Charles Darwin Research Station, we met Lonesome George along with other Galápagos tortoises.
Facts about Galápagos Tortoises
- Contrary to turtles, tortoises live on land, have heavy shells and short, sturdy feet. Their very long necks help them reach high food.
- The lifespan of a tortoise is 80-150 years. The longest living Tortoise is 326 years. George was thought to be over 100 years old.
- George was a type of tortoise called a “saddleback;” you can see in my photo above how his shell is shaped like a saddle instead of a dome.
- Pirates and whalers took Galapagos tortoises on their ships as food because they could last a long time without eating and provided the men with fresh meat.
- When ships began arriving to the islands, they brought rats, cats, dogs, goats, and other farm animals who not only ate trampled tortoises nests and ate tortoise eggs, but also devoured the same plants the tortoises ate.
- George was first discovered on the island of Pinta on November 1st, 1971. He was brought to the Darwin Research Station in 1972.
- Many scientists say George was the last surviving tortoise in his subspecies. They offered an award of $10,000 for anyone to find him a female to mate with.
- He died in 2012, never having successfully mated. Scientists who were with him cried because they thought they witnessed the extinction of an amazing creature.
- Recently some scientists claim that they have found other tortoises in his subspecies. The search continues!
Resources to Learn about Lonesome George
Both of the following books talk about Lonesome George and would be great additions to any science curriculum about evolution, endangered species, and extinction.
Lonesome George, the Giant Tortoise by Francine Jacobs is told as more of a story about Lonesome George, his life on the island as more and more feral goats take over, and then his discovery by scientists. It discusses his move to the Darwin Research Center, describes his new enclosure and what his life is like with his caretaker.
Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George provides a narrative of the history of how the tortoises came to the islands millions of years ago, and what their life was like once they were living there. She discusses how tortoises evolved, and touches on Lonesome George’s life as well. There is a lot of back matter with scientific definitions, a map, and a timeline.
Definitely show your kids these videos on George! What an amazing creature:
The information about Lonesome George starts around 1:45, though the introduction is great.
For more information on Lonesome George and tortoises of the Galapagos Islands check out: