A BIG Shell Game! - and a broken heart
The Galápagos tortoise or Galápagos giant tortoise (Geochelone nigra) is the largest living tortoise, native to seven islands of the Galápagos archipelago. This one happens to come from Santa Crus Island.
Fully grown adults can weigh over 300 kilograms (661 lb) and measure 1.2 meters (4 ft) long.
They are long-lived with a life expectancy in the wild estimated to be 100-150 years.
Charles Darwin remarked "These animals grow to an immense size ... several so large that it required six or eight men to lift them from the ground."
The old time sailing ships and Whalers use to stop in the Galapagos to reprovision and one of their favorite catches unfortunately was the giant tortoise.
They were easy to catch and provided fresh meat for the crew which allowed them to stay at sea for long periods.
You might ask "Doesn't tortoise meat spoil?" The answer is not while the tortoise is alive!
The sailors use to fill their holds with tortoise, which they stacked upside down, like cord-wood. The tortoise could live for a loooog time this way on the water it carried inside its body.
(That's a hell of a way for any animal to have to live until you are cooked and eaten, if you ask me.)
Each island tends to have a genetically different sub-species of giant tortoise and from that you can tell exactly which island they came from.
Between ships taking them from one particular island, and the island's vegetation having been devastated by introduced feral goats, they actually desimated a particulary sub-species of tortoise fom Pinta Island.
Scientists and Conservationist thought the sub-species (C. n. abingdonii) was lost forever, until one, and no more, was actually found. A male was first seen on the island of Pinta on December 1, 1971 by Hungarian malacologist named József Vágvölgyi
They named him "George". Why George? It is thought that he was named after a character played by American actor George Gobel.
They made a thourogh search of the island, but he was the only one left.
A reward of $10,000 was soon offered by the Ecuadorean government for the discovery of a suitable female to help save the subspecies, but the reward remained unclaimed.
They relocated George to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, for safety reasons and to live out the rest of his days. Somewhere along the way he became known as "Lonesome George"
George was originally penned with two females of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra becki (from the Wolf Volcano region of Isabela Island), in the hope that his genotype would be retained in any resulting progeny. George however wasn't having any of it. He had no interest in them.
Then scientists reported 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, and penned with George.
They must have been better to his liking, because in July 2008, George finally got horny and mated with one of his female companions.
Thirteen eggs were collected and placed in incubators but by December 2008, the eggs had failed to hatch and x-rays showed they were inviable.
On July 23, 2009, exactly one year later one of George's female companions had laid a second clutch of five eggs.
Alas, on 16 December, it was announced the incubation period had ended and the eggs were inviable.
A third batch of six eggs was laid by other female but they also failed to hatch.
Was George shooting blanks or had all attempts at mating George been unsuccessful due to the lack of females of his own subspecies?
In the end, on June 24, 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Director of the Galápagos National Park Edwin Naula announced that Lonesome George, the last of his kind, had been found dead.
It was suspected that the cause of death was heart failure consistent with the end of the natural life cycle of a tortoise, but the romantics among us probably would say Lonesome George probably died of a broken heart!