In 2012, a giant tortoise named Lonesome George died at the age of 100,media reported. Even more sad, George was the last known member of his species, and since then the Pinta Island elephant turtle has since declared extinction. But now, genetic studies have shown that tortoises on the islands adjacent to the Galapagos Continue this lineage and suggest that surviving members may be hiding somewhere.
Lonely George was first discovered in 1971, when he was the only living turtle on Pinta Island. It was soon transferred to a research station on another island in the Galapagos region, where he lived for more than 40 years. It was later identified as the last member of the species in the world. George died in 2012 after several failed attempts to mate with species close to kinship.
But this may not be the end of The Pinta Island elephant turtle. A recent expedition by the Galapagos Nature Reserve and the Galapagos National Park Authority found evidence that George may still have living relatives there.
The team of 45 park rangers and scientists traveled to the home of many hybrid tortoises, Mount Wolfe on Isabella Island. After collecting and analyzing blood samples from 50 animals, the researchers identified 30 tortoises of concern — 29 of which were found to have a partial lineage of a turtle called Chelonoidis Niger, which once lived on Floriana but is now thought to be extinct.
The species was found to be chelonoidis abingdonii, a species of Lonely George with a “high genetic load.” Although this young female is still a mixed race of another species, she seems to be only a generation that has been removed from the pure Ponta ancestors.
And thankfully, she was found to be relatively young. Because we know that George had no descendants for the last 40 years of his life, it suggests that there is still a purebred Pinta island elephant turtle roaming the island of Isabella.
To help restore lost diversity in the Galapagos region, the 30 tortoises were transferred to breeding centres on another island. There is no doubt that the search for the Pinta Island elephant turtle will continue.