Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lonesome George’s kin

Lonesome George (Source: BBC)
In June 2012 the presumably last individual of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise species (Chelonoidis abingdonii) died at about 100 years of age at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos. Its name was Lonesome George, and over the years it had become famous as the rarest creature in the world. George served as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally.

Over the years all attempts at mating Lonesome George with other closely related species had been unsuccessful. Therefore, everybody mourned the extinction of this tortoise subspecies in this summer.

And today the potentially good news: On the remote northern tip of Isabella Island, a group of researchers of Yale University collected DNA from more than 1,600 tortoises and discovered by comparison with DNA from museum specimens that 17 of them were ancestors of Chelonoidis abingdoni, native to Pinta Island of which Lonesome George was the last known survivor. The 17 tortoises are hybrids, but evidence suggested a few might be the offspring of a purebred Chelonoidis abingdoni parent. Five of these tortoises are juveniles, which suggested to researchers that purebred individuals may still live on the rocky cliffs of Isabella in an area called Volcano Wolf.

The researchers and the Galapagos Conservancy now hope to collect the hybrids and any surviving purebred members and begin a captive breeding program that would restore this species.

The publication is unfortunately not accessible yet but I will update the link when Elsevier decides to release it. Did I mention that I think that all press releases should always be accompanied by full open access to the publication for everyone? Bloggers like me love these kind of news but we also want to read more than the digested version that goes to the press. Especially after the ENCODE disaster.


  1. See for a copy of the paper.

  2. Thanks, Dan. I just tried the DOI - still not working. Meanwhile I will link to Danielle's copy.