Sunday, June 24, 2012


I like animals but I am not a psycho animal lover. I keep them as pets, have used them for utility, have studied and observed them, photographed them and have hunted them and eaten too. So it sure surprises the hell out me that there are actually tears in my eyes right now over the loss to the world of a single tortoise.

No, not one of my Hermann's or Redfoot Tortoises - but over the passing of Lonesome George the last of the Pinta Island Galapagos Tortoises. He was over 100 years old and probably was the best known tortoise, maybe even the best known reptile, heck - one of the best known animals - on the earth. (More on him and his life here.) All that, regardless, or because, of him probably being the rarest of creatures in the universe but such is the case when you are the last of your kind - you gain fame when others realize your rarity and he was world renowned.  So, in a small part, he was famous because he was so old, but what made him even better known, since he was unexpectedly discovered in 1972 (his species was long thought to have been extinct by then) was that he was in fact - the last of the last.

There will never be another Pinta Island Tortoise. Despite numerous attempts at breeding George with females of two other closely related species they never reproduced due to the matings. They laid eggs, but all were infertile. Still though, even had they been successful and after years and years of selective in-breeding - none of the prodigy would be a true Pinta Island Tortoise. Thus was George's fame, that he was it, none would ever replace him and now he is gone. He has lost his life and the world has lost him.

That sucks but it was inevitable since long before George was discovered to be the last of his species. It was that way because men - whalers, merchant seaman, explorers, pirates - who did not know better at the time, wiped out most of the rest of his kind for food and probably sent a few to zoos around the world too where they eventually died off. If any survived naturally, into the 20th century, then sailors who dropped of goats on Pinta island wiped the remaining ones out, all but George. They brought the goats to have a supply of fresh meat and left them there to reproduce on their own. The goats did just that, they reproduced. They also did something else, they flourished and overpopulated. They ate virtually all of the vegetation that could sustain tortoises on Pinta Island and the only one that survived, that we know of, was Lonesome George. He was 'an only one'.

It is a shame but one has to have expected it since they realized there were no females on the island. We should have gotten over it as soon as we heard of it years ago; after all, his demise and the end of his species was inevitable, written on the wall. The thing is - life goes on as I understand with or without him. Thus my surprise over the optical sogginess I was feeling when I started this post but in my defense, the giant tortoises (I think at the Bronx Zoo) were among my favorite animals when I was a young lad.

Who knows, maybe they will be able to clone him and later figure out how to 'clone' a female from his DNA and then develop a breeding population. That would be neat. What would be a real bitch would be if they suddenly discovered a female or two of his species now that he is gone. That would seem typical of the gender, coming out when the guys are gone.

I am still a little bummed out, but must say that over the years, whenever I read about George, he brought a smile to my face. I always thought he looked a bit lonely but also comical too, like a cartoon character - the tortoise who won the race against Buggs Bunny (too bad George's situation was not more like 'that' tortoise). So, I'll close with a bit of comic relief in his memory, looking at Lonesome George and at his passing from the viewpoint of yet another very famous critter:

Boy, I feel better now, that put me in the mood for some bacon and tortoise eggs.

All the best,
Glenn B