Jan 25

Lonesome George, the last Abingdon Island tortoise (Geochelone abingdoni) in the world, has been tasked with preserving the genetic legacy of his species by reproducing.  

At the grand old age of 90, George is in his sexual prime so conservationists from the Galapagos National Park have identified two new female partners from a closely related species, the Hood Island tortoise (Geochelone hoodensis) to try to encourage him to mate.

Photo of a Volcan Alcedo tortoise walking amongst sulpur fumaroles (geysers)

Eleven species of giant tortoise are currently recognised, each occupying isolated islands within the Galapagos chain. The species can be generally separated into those with 'domed' shells, which occur on larger, wetter islands, and smaller tortoises with 'saddleback' shells that are found on smaller islands with dry vegetation.

Islands’ most eligible bachelor 

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are home to many unusual species, but none are as rare as Lonesome George. Despite being the Galapagos Islands’ most eligible bachelor, for the last 20 years George has tried and failed to sire offspring with his previous mates, as none of their eggs resulted in viable offspring. 

But George still has plenty of life left in him, and scientists now believe George may have a better chance of reproducing with his two new partners from the archipelago’s Spanish Island. Genetic studies have shown that the newly arrived tortoises “are genetically closer… more compatible, and could offer greater possibilities of producing offspring”, the park’s statement said.

Photo of a group of Volcan Alcedo tortoises in shallow pool

These tortoises spend a large part of the day grazing in small groups. During the rainy season a lot of time is spent wallowing in shallow pools, and at night tortoises can be found in depressions dug into the ground.

World’s ‘rarest living creature’ 

If this attempt fails, Diego Cisneros, a herpetologist at the National Park, says there could be other options. “There are certain methodologies, hybridization, cloning, etc. but they are not so easy and we’re talking about reptiles, the study of which is not as advanced as the studies of other animals.” 

It would be an encouraging story for all threatened species if George, the world’s ‘rarest living creature’, was to pass on his legacy to another generation. So let’s hope it’s love at first sight and George and his two new companions hit if off. 

Watch a video of Lonesome George on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Ben Roberts (January 25th, 2011 at 4:06 pm):

    Can brother and sister tortoises mate successfully? Because otherwise the new generation won’t have much luck either!