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Lonesome George, the last purebred Pinta Island giant tortoise, was found dead Sunday in his Galapagos National Park habitat. His keeper for 40 years, Fausto Llerena, found him unresponsive by his watering hole.
"This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George. His body was motionless," the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula, told Reuters. "His life cycle came to an end."
The tortoise was only 100 years old. While that doesn't exactly sound young by human standards, in tortoise years, that put him at about middle age. Most tortoises live to be 200 years old. His early death will be examined in a post mortem necropsy, and his body will be preserved for further study.
Lonesome George was first discovered in 1971 by biologist, Joseph Vagvolgyi. In an attempt to perpetuate the species, two females from a similar giant tortoise line were brought in for mating in 1993. But apparently, George just wanted to be friends. Two batches of eggs were laid, but both were infertile.
While George was the last of his kind, there are still some subspecies of giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. CNN reported, "His death marks the end of the purebred Pinta Island tortoise, but there is hope that they will survive in some form: at least one first-generation descendant of the subspecies has been found at the Wolf volcano on neighboring Isabela Island."
The giant tortoises heavily populated the islands when Charles Darwin arrived to study the fauna. They played a part in his development of the theory of evolution. However, since then, the population has dwindled due to hunters killing them off for food and a new breed of goat moving in and eating the plants of their habitat over the years. There are only an estimated 20,000 giant tortoises left.
The tortoises bring in thousands of tourist every year, and Lonesome George was a popular attraction. He will be missed by park rangers and tourists alike.