Giant Tortoise ‘Lonesome George’ Dies in the Galapagos

The Pinta Island tortoise -- an eternal bachelor -- was the last member of a subspecies believed to date back some 10 million years.

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Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty

Lonesome George, the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise, iis pictured at Galapagos National Park's breeding center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz island, Galapagos on June 24, 2006. Lonesome George died on June 24, 2012 at the age of approximately 100, making the Pinta Island Tortoise extinct.

The world shed a tear when the news broke that “Lonesome George” — the last remaining giant tortoise of his kind — passed away  in his enclosure in the Galapagos Islands on Sunday.

The 200-pound, 5-foot-long reptile was thought to be in the prime of his life — around 100 years old, which is not particularly old for a giant tortoise. Conservation officials in the Galapagos are conducting an autopsy to determine his cause of death, though they suspect he may have suffered a heart attack, reports AP.

George was the last remaining tortoise in his particular subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, which is believed to date back some 10 million years. The giant tortoises had evolved like many creatures on the isolated Galapagos archipelago to become large and trusting. That changed in the 19th century, when George’s subspecies and others were nearly wiped out by whalers and seal hunters looking for an easy meal, reports the Guardian.

(MORE: Top 10 Not-So-Extinct Animals)

More recently, humans tried to do penance by relocating George from his native goat-ridden Pinta Island to Santa Cruz Island, where he spent the last 40 years of his life clambering around in a protected field. Yet George’s repeated refusals to procreate — even when lured by a Swiss zoology student slathered in female tortoise hormones — earned him his nickname, and denied humanity the satisfaction of making amends by ensuring the survival of his subspecies.

Despite his nickname, George, in some ways, was far from lonesome: He is part of a global family of animals who are among the last remaining representatives of their kind. Here are some of George’s most endangered relatives, as reported by National Geographic:

  1. Vaquita: A tiny dolphin that lives in the Gulf of Mexico and often drowns in fishing nets. 150 left
  2. Hirola: An antelope with lovely swirled horns that lives near the Kenya-Somalia border and is threatened by cattle farming and drought. 600 left
  3. Bonneted Bat: Florida’s largest bat was thought to be extinct until a small colony was found near Fort Myers in 2002. The 21-inch creature has lost most of the cliff crevices and tree cavities in which it lives. 100 left
  4. Grenada Dove: The pink-breasted Caribbean bird has been hunted to the brink of extinction by mongooses, cats and rats. 150 left
  5. White-headed Langur: These monkeys on Vietnam’s Cat Ba Island are used in traditional Chinese medicine and have now been fractured into a few small groups. 59 left

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