Lonesome George, the world's last remaining Pinta Island tortoise, has died at age 100 -- marking the end of a species millennia in the making, and inching that 'loneliest' mantle one notch closer to us.
Indeed, for thousands of years the more than a dozen islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago, including Pinta, served as nursing grounds for some of the rarest and most distinctive species on the planet, the likes of which ultimately inspired groundbreaking theories of natural selection. But sadly, this gem of biodiversity would eventually play host to another realization -- that human influence can so easily break this fragile process.
Not long after scientific expedition first began to flock to the Galapagos to study its untarnished ecosystems, life on the islands would never be the same. On the island of Pinta, goats introduced by settlers devoured so much vegetation that its unique subspecies of tortoise was all but wiped out. In fact, Pinta tortoises were believed to be extinct as late as 1971 -- that is, until a sole survivor was found: Lonesome George.
Since then, George had been the only thing standing between life and death for his species, and conservationists and indeed the world rallied for its preservation. In captivity, George was anything but lonesome; for decades, the one-of-a-kind tortoise was accompanied by females of closely-related species in hopes that his unique DNA could be passed on in hybrid offspring -- but all attempts at mating would prove fruitless for the centenarian.
The concerted efforts towards saving a species, as we've come to learn in this more ecologically enlightened era, is far more challenging to summon than the mindless actions that originally imperil them.
So, when Lonesome George was found dead in his enclosure over the weekend, the loss was more than two-fold. Not only is this figurehead of conservation gone and an entire, time-honed species lost for the ages, so too is the naive notion that nature will bend towards our better, albeit, wholly unnatural influences to make amends for those that have gotten here.