Farewell To An Icon

Today is a bit of a departure from my usual posts.  Hang with me. I’ll be back to silliness in my next post, but I wanted take a minute to say goodbye to an old guy. Yesterday I received a sobering email. Yesterday the world lost Lonesome George.

He was the last of his kind, the sole representative of the Pinta Island subspecies of Galapagos tortoise. A $10,000 reward was offered to anyone who could find a female like him. None did. His keepers tried for a few years to breed him with a different subspecies but with no success.  For those of us who love tortoises, I think the hardest part is the awful finality of “The End.” I can’t even comprehend it.

Species go extinct everyday, frogs, insects, tiny mammals. Sometimes it’s part of the order of things. And sometimes it’s because we royally screwed up. It’s the hardest to take when I know that people are responsible. It’s hardest when that species is 800lbs. And when it has a name. And liked it’s head scratched.

We did it ourselves. Maybe not us, personally, but our kind. From the introduction of injurious species like rats and goats, which eat tortoise eggs and young and destroy habitat, to actual consumption by people. Sailors traveling through often loaded up their ships with tortoises so they could have fresh meat on their travels. Darwin himself survived almost exclusively on tortoise meat while he visited the islands. It was all on us. We didn’t know what we were doing, and we sure didn’t mean to, but we did it.

I was always rooting for the old guy, that he would make the money shot and reproduce himself. That a hero would step out of the wings with a female (or three) just like him.  I pinned on him the hope that we could make up for some of our mistakes. If we could save George’s line, then just maybe we could undo some of the other ugliness that we as humans have created. This time we didn’t quite make it.

All is not lost for Galapagos tortoises. There are a couple of other subspecies, and there has been real success in their reproduction. Numbers have climbed from 3,000 all the way to about 20,000 in the last thirty years or so. But these are managed populations. Lacking the ability to eliminate rats on the islands, human intervention is required to rescue eggs, which must be transported to an entirely different island where they are raised for several years before returning to their home. There is no wild for them anymore.

So what can we do? That’s an easy answer with difficult follow-through. I can strive each day to leave the world a little better than I found it. As there’s a direct link between carbon emissions ad global warming, I can choose a day a week where I walk anywhere I need to go. The Aldabra Atoll where the other giant species of tortoise lives, is only 26 feet (yes, feet) above sea level. It won’t take much of a global temperature rise for their entire habitat to be under water.  I can choose to not throw food out of my car window. Hunting the small mammals that are drawn onto the road for these easy pickings, thousands of owls are hit by vehicles each year. I can choose to buy fish from companies that do their jobs responsibly and in a sustainable manner. I can support an accredited zoo or aquarium. They have ongoing captive-breeding and conservation projects to help endangered animals survive. I can teach my kids that it’s not all about me. There are other people who share this planet.

My desire is not to be preachy here. My goal is to challenge us all to do a little better than we have done. I think we owe that much to George. We owe that much to ourselves. Despite what we read in science fiction, this is the only planet we have.

Farewell, George. We’re going to get it right one day soon.

Baby Galapagos tortoises

Me and my own giant tortoise friend.

My beloved Tex, Aldabra extraordinaire.

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48 thoughts on “Farewell To An Icon

  1. RIP, George. I hope that some of George’s kind are found wisely hiding away from us some day when folks can do something to reverse some of the damage we’ve done.

  2. Read about LG yesterday on the BBC homepage and wondered what you might have to say. Heartbreaking. We are all responsible- every little decision we make has an impact – multiply those good decisions and we can make a difference.

      • Well, there you go. I don’t watch the news, at all. I get too upset and often feel like I’m not getting the truth anyway. Unfortunately, you are the only one I’ve heard about it from so I appreciate the post.

      • Well, there you go. I don’t watch the news, at all. (In fact, I watch very little TV period.) I get too upset and often feel like I’m not getting the truth anyway. Unfortunately, you are the only one I’ve heard about it from so I appreciate the post.

  3. I thought of you when I saw the news yesterday. I mean, he’s kind of like your Elvis. It’s so sad constantly being reminded that humanitys parasitic vampirism of mother earth leads to 7 billion people and only one perfect George. It’s makes me mad and sad and mad and then sad again. Blugh!

  4. There aren’t any words. I’m teary-eyed, trying to understand the bigger picture and remember the tremendous conservation efforts of so many — so as to not be angry with his passing and the extinction of this amazing species. Every moment we must remember there is only one Earth, and CARE for its land and species, both disappearing too rapidly. Thanks for sharing your beautiful post…

  5. fantastic post and you are right.. we can make a difference, maybe not the difference that we expect or hope for, but every time you walk past the car to your bike you make a difference. Sad that he was the last of them. you are doing good work.. c

  6. Oh drat! I hate people. We suck! Sometimes I’m filled with self-loathing for being a part of the human race, and usually it involves the perfectly wonderful things we destroy.

    You might appreciate knowing that last week my husband saw a fairly large turtle at a busy intersection near our house. He pulled over in a parking lot, ran back to the intersection and saved the poor guy from a certain death. A woman in our city called The Turtle Lady (she legally changed her name to this, I swear it) took over from there and confirmed he was a western painter, I think? Very large to be hanging out in a city.

    Those turtles are enormous!

    • One cool thing is that turtles and tortoises have built in radar. If you find them on the road and put them in across in the direction they were going, they’ll go right where they are supposed to.

  7. I’m hoping they have saved some of his DNA and can clone him somehow in the future. I know that the genetic diversity is gone but still…. maybe someday we will see a Passenger Pigeon and a Dodo and especially a Wooly Mammoth.

  8. Farewell George. But then sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the natural order of things that sub-species go extinct and new ones are discovered. I do not believe that man can have influence on the climate, not enough to alter it at least. (The myth of man made global warming has been largely debunked. When I was a kid, it was global cooling. The earth may warm or cool but there is not a thing man will be able to do to stop it.) However, it sickens me when I see trash in a natural place or a polluted stream or lake. But is it realistic to think that rats or goats would never make it to an island? Not ever in the history of earth? Species must adapt or….

  9. Pingback: Remembering Lonesome George

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