Lonesome George, the only remaining Pinta Island tortoise, has been found dead in the Galapagos National Park - leaving the world one subspecies poorer.
A conservation icon, Lonesome George the tortoise had become an ambassador for the Galapagos Islands. George lived at a tortoise breeding center on the island of Santa Cruz. He was found Sunday morning near the watering hole in his pen by his longtime keeper, Fausto Llerena, the park said in a statement.
"The death of Lonesome George has left our planet one subspecies poorer," said Volker Homes, head of wildlife conservation at WWF Germany.
"George was a symbol," Homes told DW. "It was clear, when this species dies, there's no bringing it back." The conservationist warned that the extinction of species is not good for human beings. "It leaves us fewer options," he said.
Homes said the tortoise's extinction has been caused by human activity. Sailors, whalers and pirates used to take large numbers of live tortoises on their journeys because the creatures could survive for months without food and provided an invaluable source of meat.
Later, settlers brought with them goats and other non-native animals that pushed the native species from their feeding sites and decimated the Galapagos' giant tortoise population even further.
A recovery program run by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today. The archipelago has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, recognized for the rich plant and animal life found both on its land and in the surrounding sea.
A haven for tortoises
Lonesome George's precise age was not known, but scientists believe he was about 100 years old.
The tortoise was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when giant tortoises of his type, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, were already believed to be extinct. Various mates were provided for George in what proved to be unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive.
The park said the cause of his death would be investigated.
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach
Editor: Saroja Coelho