June 25, 2012 - 10:56 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A giant tortoise known as a symbol for the disappearing species and of the Galapagos Islands died on Sunday, June 24, Daily Mail reported.
The tortoise named Lonesome George, who gained notoriety with its failed efforts to produce offspring, was found dead on Sunday, officials at the Galapagos National Park announced.
Lonesome George was believed to be the last living member of the Pinta island subspecies. The tortoise had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador's coast whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution.
He was found in his pen by his longtime keeper, Fausto Llerena, the park said in a statement.
“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula. “His life cycle came to an end.”
Lonesome George's age was not known but scientists believed he was about 100. That's not especially old for giant tortoises, who can live well over a century. Scientists had expected him to live another few decades at least.
Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George after he was found in 1972. However, it proved to be unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive. He lived at a tortoise breeding center on the archipelago's island of Santa Cruz. Attempts were initially made to mate Lonesome George with two female tortoises from Wolf Volcano. But the eggs they produced were infertile.
Two females from Spanish island's tortoise population, the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises, were placed with him last year.
The park said the cause of his death would be investigated.
The pen where George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, who often had to scramble with each other to take pictures of one of the rarest creatures on Earth.
The Galapagos' giant tortoise population was decimated after the arrival of humans.
Tortoises were hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction. Their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland. But a recovery program run by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation has increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today.