Finally Baby-Making Time For One of a Kind Tortoise?

Photo credit: Wikipedia / Creative Commons

If Lonesome George suffers from performance anxiety, it's hard to blame him. At the ripe old age of nearly 100, the last-of-his-kind Galapagos tortoise has been charged with preserving his species' genetic legacy by reproducing -- and so far it's been slow going. For the last 20 years, George has tried and failed to sire offspring with his previous mates, but things may soon be looking up. Last week, conservationists introduced old George to two eligible young lady tortoises thought to be more closely matched to his nearly extinct species -- and they're hoping that it just might finally be baby-making time this sole survivor.By the time George was discovered on the Galapagos Islands back in the 1970s, he was believed to be the only remaining member of the Geochelone abigdoni species. Since that time, despite their best efforts, the old tortoise has yet to successfully mate. But, even at the age of around a century old, George has plenty of life in him yet.

Over the last two decades, George hasn't really been lonesome at all. He's been sharing his posh enclosure in Galapagos National Park with two females, brought in specifically to be his companions. And, for the past three years, the females have laid eggs, but unfortunately those eggs failed to produce any offspring with which to carry-on George's unique genes.

George, bottom right, with his two previous female pen mates. Photo credit: Collin Dunn

In the latest bid for babies, the park has recently shipped-in two new females thought to be of a species more genetically similar to George's all but extinct kind.

The two new tortoises, of the Geochelone hoodensis species, "are genetically closer ... more compatible, and could offer greater possibilities of producing offspring," according to a statement issues from the park. This closer pairing might be just the thing needed to result in viable offspring.

For conservationists, if George is able pass his legacy on to a new generation it wouldn't just an encouraging sign for endangered tortoises, but for all species on Earth so dangerously close to extinction. TreeHugger Brian, on a recent visit to the Galapagos, notes the far-reaching significance of Lonesome George for all the world's threatened species.

In some ways, George himself is symbolic of man's impact on the Galapagos in general--and he's easily the Galapagos' most tragic figure. He's majestic, beautiful, and absolutely unique. He's the rarest animal on earth. And he lingers on, obstinately, unable to or unsure of how to reproduce.

But he's also a symbol of hope--the very fact that he was rescued before the Pinta Island Tortoises went extinct altogether was emblematic of the growing vigor of global conservation efforts. And that there's a chance--even a slim one--that science may allow him to reproduce and continue his line, is indisputable evidence of how far we've come in species preservation.

We wish Lonesome George and his two new companions the best of luck in not only starting a family, but in saving a species as well. No pressure though.

More on Lonesome George
The Last of His Kind: The Lamented Life of Lonesome George
The Ballad of Lonesome George, The Galapagos' Most Famous Tortoise

Tags: Animals | Endangered Species | Galapagos