First Mating in 36 Years For Island's Last Giant Tortoise

Image: "Lonesome George" - it's lonely to be the last (putneymark on Flickr)

Ninety years old and considered one of the world's rarest organisms, the giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands known as "Lonesome George" stunned conservationists when he mated with two females earlier this summer. To the dismay of scientists studying the eggs however, 80 percent of the eggs appear to be duds.

Originating from Pinta Island, once home to thousands of saddleback tortoises, George (Geochelone nigra abingdoni) is the last of his kind to be found and was taken into captivity in 1971. The females were from a different subspecies of giant tortoise on a neighbouring island.

But Ecuadorean scientists in charge of the tortoise re-population plan on Pinta are not about to give up."We are puzzled. We will leave the eggs in the incubators and try to find answers," says park official Washington Tapia. "It's too early to say if George is infertile, only genetic research could tell us that."

In spite of his lack of libido for the last decades and various attempts at artificial insemination and "tabloid-like rumours the 90-kilogram creature preferred other males," George is in his reproductive prime, and his keepers hope that the remaining eggs could still yield offspring.

Restoring Pinta
Once home to a number of unique species, Pinta Island is one of the northernmost islands in the Galapagos Archipelago and exemplifies how human impact can be potentially destructive. After 200 years of ecological decline - characterized by whalers who devoured the Pinta giant tortoises to near extinction and followed by the introduction of goats who devoured native vegetation and food sources of the tortoises — the island is now poised for ecological recovery.

A program to eliminate goats and limit the 60 square mile island's population to 100 individuals has been implemented. Along with support from the United Nations, Ecuador has designated the islands as "at risk" to protect the remaining 20,000 giant tortoises on the islands.

ABC News
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Tags: Animals | Biodiversity | Conservation | Ecuador

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