x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Lonesome George's end

The untimely death of the last of a tortoise subspecies is a reminder of the fragility of our planet.

The global ecology is, sadly, less diverse with news that the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies is extinct. On Sunday, in the Galapagos archipelago, a majestic reptile known as Lonesome George passed away. Although he was about 100 years old, similar species of tortoise have been known to live twice that long - leading to anthropomorphic speculation that, as the last of his kind, George died of a broken heart.

When he was found in 1972, the Pinta subspecies was already thought to be extinct, the victim of hunters who had caught and ate giant tortoises until the 1950s. George didn't want for attention or companionship over the years, but nothing worked out. Scientists had tried, and failed, to get him to reproduce with females of a related species from Espanola Island.

In time, George became a poster boy for the Galapagos Islands and species diversity. He was seen as a living link to British scientist Charles Darwin, whose observations of the differences between the tortoises on the various islands helped frame his theory of evolution published in 1859 as On the Origin of Species.

Lonesome George's name (and perhaps his preserved shell) will live on as a reminder that this planet is fragile, and that nothing is forever - unless we appreciate it, work hard to preserve it and don't eat it.