QUITO – Lonesome George, the last survivor of the subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni of the giant tortoises (“galapagos” in Spanish) that gave Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands their name, died of old age after living more than a century, according to autopsy results released Tuesday.
“The conclusion is that the tortoise died of natural causes, probably brought on by old age,” the management of Galapagos National Park said.
Two biologists and a veterinarian spent two hours examining the body of the tortoise, which was found dead Sunday, and took samples of his organs and tissue for laboratory analysis.
The only anomaly they found was that its liver showed “abnormal coloring, presumably a factor of age,” the park said.
Lonesome George’s body will be embalmed and will occupy a place of honor in a museum or study center for tortoises that will bear its name.
Fausto Llerena, a park ranger who looked after George for 40 years, told Efe that the museum will be built at a place known as La Casona on Santa Cruz Island.
Llerena has been caring for Lonesome George since 1971, when he took part in the expedition to Pinta Island where the solitary chelonian was found at a time when tortoises on that island were thought to be extinct.
Since then, George had been part of the park’s program for breeding the species in captivity.
Different methods were used to stimulate reproduction, at first with females of the subspecies from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, with which George finally mated after being in their company for 15 years, but the eggs were infertile.
Later it was placed in a corral with females of the genetically closer subspecies from Española Island, where it remained until Sunday.
The Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the Ecuadorian mainland, served as a natural laboratory that inspired English scientist Charles Darwin to develop his theory about evolution, natural selection and the origin of species. EFE