Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lonesome George

Meet Lonesome George, the world's last remaining Pinta Island Tortoise, a species now listed as being 'Extinct in the Wild' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species was driven to extinction because whalers and other Galapagos settlers collected them for consumption. On top of that, feral goats were introduced and destroyed the island's vegetation. Lonesome George was found in 1971 and moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station in hopes of finding a female that could be introduced for a captive breeding program. On two occasions George successfully mated with two females of different subspecies, but none of the eggs were viable.

Recent research analyzing DNA sequences revealed that other Pinta Island Tortoises might exist on the neighboring Galapagos island of Isabela (PubMed). One male tortoise that was screened had half of its genes in common with George's subspecies, suggesting that it is likely a first generation intergrade between the subspecies. This means that a pure Pinta Island Tortoise might be living among the 2000 tortoises on Isabela. The Darwin Research Station is offering $10,000 to anyone who discovers a Pinta female.

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