Even his name breaks my heart.
And now, Lonesome George is no more. With George’s death, the Galapagos tortoise subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni is now extinct.
Species and subspecies become extinct all the time. It is not unnatural for species to die out – dinosaurs, anyone? But humans have significantly increased the rate of extinction of a number of species, through hunting, habitat destruction and introduction of exotic species. It was both hunting and the intoduction of species like goats and rats, which competed with the tortoise for edible vegetation, which led to Lonesome George’s plight.
There are massive conservation efforts underway in the Galapagos these days, to ensure the survival of other endangered tortoise species in the region and these efforts should be applauded. Unfortunately, these were too late for George and his family. These efforts should, however, be further extended to other critically endangered species like the Sumatran Orangutan and the Iberian Lynx. These too, are threatened by human expansion into and destruction of habitats, which shows no sign of slowing down, particularly with the current demand for palm oil (predominantly from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are part of the orangutan’s habitat) and the development of urban and resort environments in Spain. The lynx and the orangutan are but two examples, but they show the way in which we need to rethink our relationship to the environment, to avoid losing enormous amounts of biodiversity and to stop other species going the same sad way as Lonesome George.
RIP George. Let’s hope we’ve leant something from your passing.