Lonesome George, A Galapagos Icon, Dies At 100

By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS/AP) QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuadorean officials say that the famed Galapagos giant tortoise Lonesome George has died.

The Galapagos National Park says in a statement that the tortoise estimated to be about 100 years old died Sunday.

Lonesome George was first seen by a Hungarian scientist on the Galapagos island of Pinta in 1972, reports BBC.

He was believed to be the last living member of the Geochelone abigdoni species and had become a symbol of the islands that helped inspire Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution.

Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George over the years in unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive.

Scientists had said he was not especially old and had expected him to live another few decades at least.

The park said the cause of his death would be investigated.

There are unique tortoises on several of Galapagos' islands, but scientists figured out Lonesome George was likely the last of his kind not long after he was first spotted.

In an article for the Tortoise Trust, Vicki Seal writes:

"Once there were millions of giant tortoises. In the age of the dinosaurs they covered most of the Americas, Europe and Asia. Like other dinosaurs they began to die out when mammals evolved and they were neither clever enough nor fast enough to compete for food.

But three million years ago, the Galapagos Islands burst out of the Pacific Ocean. For centuries these volcanic wastelands were bare. Then seeds carried by birds took root, the birds themselves stayed, and animals arriving on rafts of vegetation carried by ocean currents no longer perished.

Among there animals were the giant tortoises. They landed on 10 of the islands and have become adapted to the conditions of each.

Charles Darwin, visiting the islands in 1835, saw that the tortoises on each island were different although they had obviously descended from a common stock which was now extinct on the mainland. This observation formed part of his world-changing Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection."

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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