Lonesome George, the giant Galapagos tortoise that has become a conservation icon may not be the last of his kind after all. George was thought to be the only survivor of a Geochelone abingdoni, a species of tortoise native to the Pinta isle.
But this week, Current Biology has reported a hybrid of the Pinta tortoise and another species discovered on Isabela isle. So the new tortoise, though not completely like George, is proof that hybrids are possible and the future of the George’s species doesn’t look as bleak anymore.
The new turtle is male so can not mate with George, who seems happy as a hermit. George has snubbed the many opportunities he has been given to mate with female tortoises of closely related species.
Researchers hope that a more thorough sampling of the 2,000 tortoises living on the island could reveal another of Georg’s species but are cautious as the project may be expensive and time-consuming.
It is thought that the collapse of the giant tortoise population on Pinta is due in large part to whaling activities in the Pacific during the 18th and 19th Centuries when sailors would take tortoises to store as food on their ships. They pefered the females, which were smaller and easier targets in lowland areas during the egg-laying season. By the middle of the 20th Century, only one giant tortoise was left on Pinta: George who is thought to have been born in the 1920s.