During my previous Galapagos travel blog post I stated that there are 10 subspecies of Giant Tortoises in the wild… the eleventh being Lonesome George, a single individual that bears the brunt of being the last living survivor of his kind. Widely considered “the world’s rarest living creature”, Lonesome George lives in the Darwin Research Station at Puerto Ayora, and most Galapagos cruise tours offer a chance to meet him.
Lonesome George, even to more expert Galapagos travel buffs, still looks like other tortoises, especially the giant tortoise subspecies of Española. At some point it was believed that Lonesome George was actually an Española subspecies, situation that, until effective DNA testing confirmed otherwise, could have debunked the entire mystique created around this particular individual. So when you meet him during your next Galapagos cruise tour, rest assured, he is the real thing.
Lonesome George, in other words, is the last known member of the Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoises. (Galapagos cruise tours don’t travel to this island, by the way). All tortoises have been eradicated on Pinta Island, just like on 3 or 4 locations more, (meaning the native giant tortoise subspecies of these places have already become extinct). Although it may not sound that glamorous to be a subspecies, in this case, it is quite a fascinating category. It means that they are in the process of evolving into “species” status. It is thus quite accurate when we say Galapagos travel is a journey to a natural laboratory of Life on Earth. Apart from the fact that Galapagos cruise tour vacations are the only cruise tour vacations that get thousands of people excited each year about a “subspecies”!
Lonesome George is currently seeking a mate (in case anyone’s interested) so his very particular DNA construct is not forever forgotten. Females of related giant tortoise subspecies have not yet given Lonesome George an heir, but there is also hope that at least one of the 2000 Galapagos Giant Tortoises of Isabela’s Wolf Volcano is actually a perfect match: a bone fide Pinta Island Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Recent DNA testing on the island has suggested this… we keep our fingers crossed.