Lonesome George (c. 1910 – June 24, 2012) was a male Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii) and the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George serves as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world.
George was first seen on the island of Pinta on 1 November 1971 by Hungarian malacologist József Vágvölgyi. The island's vegetation had been devastated by introduced feral goats, and the indigenous C. n. abingdonii population had been reduced to a single individual. It is thought that he was named after a character played by American actor George Gobel. Relocated for his safety to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, it was hoped that more Pinta tortoises would be found, either on Pinta or in one of the world’s zoos, similar to the discovery of the Española male in San Diego. George was then penned with two females of a different subspecies. Although eggs were produced, none hatched. Unfortunately, no other Pinta tortoises were found. The Pinta tortoise was pronounced functionally extinct as George was in captivity.
Over the decades, all attempts at mating Lonesome George had been unsuccessful, due to the lack of females of his own subspecies. This prompted researchers at the Darwin Station to offer a $10,000 reward for a suitable mate.
Until January 2011, George was penned with two females of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra becki (from the Wolf Volcano region of Isabela Island), in the hope his genotype would be retained in any resulting progeny. This subspecies was then thought to be genetically closest to George's; however, any potential offspring would have been intergrades, not purebreds of the Pinta subspecies.
In July 2008, George mated with one of his female companions. Thirteen eggs were collected and placed in incubators. On 11 November 2008, the Charles Darwin Foundation reported 80% of the eggs showed weight loss characteristic of being inviable. By December 2008, the remaining eggs had failed to hatch and x-rays showed they were inviable.
On 23 July 2009, exactly one year after announcing George had mated, the Galápagos National Park announced one of George's female companions had laid a second clutch of five eggs. The park authority expressed its hope for the second clutch of eggs, which it said were in perfect condition. The eggs were moved to an incubator, but on 16 December, it was announced the incubation period had ended and the eggs were inviable (as was a third batch of six eggs laid by the other female).
In November 1999, scientists reported Lonesome George was "very closely related to tortoises" from Española Island (C. n. hoodensis) and San Cristóbal Island (C. n. chathamensis). On 20 January 2011, two individual C. n. hoodensis female partners were imported to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where George lived.
On 24 June 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Edwin Naula, Director of the Galápagos National Park, announced that Lonesome George had been found dead by his caretaker of 40 years, Fausto Llerena. Naula suspects that the cause of death was heart failure consistent with the end of the natural life cycle of a tortoise. A necropsy confirmed that he died of "old age". The body of Lonesome George was frozen and shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to be preserved by taxidermists. The preservation work was carried out by the museum's taxidermist George Dante, with input from scientists.
After a short display at the museum, it was expected that Lonesome George would be returned to the Galápagos and will be displayed at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island for future generations to see. However, a dispute has broken out between an Ecuadorean ministry and the Galapagos Islands over where the preserved body of a Galapagos giant tortoise should be housed. The Ecuadorean government wants him to be shown in the capital Quito but the Galapagos local mayor says Lonesome George was a symbol of the islands and should return home. Most sources state Lonesome George was more than 100 years old, though others such as David Attenborough said he was probably in his eighties or possibly even younger. Even one hundred is not especially old for a Galápagos tortoise.
In November 2012, in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers reported identifying 17 tortoises that are partially descended from the same subspecies as Lonesome George, leading them to speculate that related purebred individuals of that subspecies may still be alive.
In December 2015 it was reported that the discovery of another species (Chelonoidis donfaustoi) by Yale researchers had a 90% DNA match to that of the Pinta tortoise and that scientists believe this could possibly be used to resurrect the species.