Lonesome George, ‘Rarest Creature in the World,’ Dies
By Alex Kasdin
Lonesome George, the last known survivor of his subspecies of Galápagos giant tortoise. Credit: Thomas H Fritts/EPA
Almost always, when a species goes extinct, it happens quietly, without anyone noticing. But in the case of a rare subspecies of giant tortoise, the final passing comes with great mourning because the last known one not only had a name, but a beloved face.
The world lost a true character when Lonesome George died on Sunday. He was the last known of his subspecies, according to an article in the Guardian, which lived only on the small island of La Pinta in the Galapagos Islands. George, who scientists estimate was around 100 years old, had a long career as a charismatic symbol of the Galapagos, which is home to almost 9,000 species, many of them rare and unique to the islands.
But George was special. It's impossible to know how many tourists George drew to the islands, his noble face gracing countless travel brochures and posters. He was almost an ambassador to the rest of the planet, always calm and serene, a constant reminder of nature's wonders -- and now a reminder of how they can slip away.
George was the last of his kind because he was not able to reproduce with females of a closely related subspecies, despite the best efforts of scientists. Due to his lack of offspring and relatives, he was called the “rarest creature in the world,” the BBC reports.
George did well to live to 100, particularly as lonesome as he was, but according to the estimates of scientists, that is a mere half of the possible life span of the Galapagos giant tortoise.
Though the Pinta subspecies of giant tortoise is now extinct, around 20,000 giant tortoises remain in the Galapagos, but they are also threatened with extinction. Hunting most likely killed more than 100,000 tortoises between 1600 and 1900. Livestock on the islands also limit their food supply, harm their eggs, and destroy their habitat, according to National Geographic.
Lonesome George’s passing made international news, while countless other extinctions go unnoticed every year. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated that 100-1,000 species are lost each year for every million species that exist. And scientists agree that this rate will only increase with the growing threat of climate change, which could cause a rapid decrease in biodiversity within the next 100 years, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Not every threatened species has a face and a name as beloved as Lonesome George. But the sadness for his passing should be extended to them as well.