Pinta Island tortoise

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Pinta Island tortoise
Lonesome George -Pinta giant tortoise -Santa Cruz.jpg
Lonesome George, the last known individual of his subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, died in June of 2012.
Probably extinct
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Chelonoidis
Species: C. nigra
Subspecies: C. n. abingdonii
Trinomial name
Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii
(Günther, 1877)[1]
Galapagos tortoise distribution map.svg
Map of the Galápagos Islands indicating their native subspecies of tortoise

The Pinta Island tortoise[2] (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii[1][3]), also known as the Pinta giant tortoise,[1] Abingdon Island tortoise,[4] or Abingdon Island giant tortoise,[1] is a subspecies of Galápagos tortoise native to Ecuador's Pinta Island that is probably extinct.[5]

The subspecies was described by Albert Günther in 1877 after specimens arrived in London. By the end of the 19th century, most of the Pinta Island tortoises had been wiped out due to hunting.[6] By the mid-20th century, the subspecies was assumed to be extinct[citation needed] until a single male was discovered on the island in 1971. Efforts were made to mate the male, named Lonesome George, with other subspecies, but no viable eggs were produced. Lonesome George died on 24 June 2012 and the subspecies was believed to have become extinct with his death.[7] However, 17 first-generation hybrids have been found at Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island during a recent trip by Yale University researchers. As these specimens are juveniles, their parents may still be alive.[8]

Subspecies naming[edit]

Albert Günther, who described Testudo abingdonii in 1877

This subspecies was originally described in 1877 by German-born British herpetologist Albert Günther, who named it Testudo abingdonii, a new species, in his book The Gigantic Land-tortoises (Living and Extinct) in the Collection of the British Museum.[3][9] The name, abingdonii, derives from Abingdon Island, now more commonly known as Pinta Island. The knowledge of its existence was derived from short statements of the voyages of Captain James Colnett in 1798 and Basil Hall in 1822.[9] In 1876 Commander William Cookson[10] brought three male specimens (along with other subspecies of Galápagos tortoise) to London aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Peterel.[9][11]


Some synonyms of Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii are: Testudo abingdonii Günther, 1877; Testudo elephantopus abingdoniiMertens & Wermuth, 1955; Geochelone elephantopus abingdonii – Pritchard, 1967; Geochelone nigra abingdonii – Iverson, 1992; Geochelone abingdonii – Valverde, 2004.[12]

Conservation efforts[edit]

In 1958, goats introduced to Pinta Island began eating much of the herbs and shrubs to the detriment of the natural habitat.[13][14] A prolonged effort to exterminate the goats was initiated. As the goat populations declined, the vegetation underwent an amazing recovery. Small trees began regenerating from the stumps left by the goats. Highland shrub species, forest tree seedlings, Opuntia cactus, and other endemic species increased. In 2003, Pinta Island was declared "goat-free".[15]

Lonesome George[edit]

Main article: Lonesome George
Lonesome George at the Charles Darwin Research Station, photograph taken in December 2006

The last known individual of the subspecies was a male named Lonesome George[16] (Spanish: El Solitario Jorge/George),[17] who died on 24 June 2012.[17][18][19] In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George served as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally.[20]

George was first seen on the island of Pinta on 1 December 1971 by Hungarian malacologist József Vágvölgyi. Relocated for his safety to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, George was penned with two females of a different subspecies. Although eggs were produced, none hatched. The Pinta tortoise was pronounced functionally extinct as George was in captivity.

Over the decades, all attempts at mating Lonesome George had been unsuccessful, possibly due to the lack of females of his own subspecies.

On 24 June 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Director of the Galápagos National Park Edwin Naula announced that Lonesome George had been found dead[21][22][23] by his caretaker of 40 years, Fausto Llerena.[24] Naula suspects that the cause of death was heart failure consistent with the end of the natural lifecycle of a tortoise.

Possible remaining individuals[edit]

Prague Zoo[edit]

In 2006, Peter Pritchard, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Galapagos tortoises, suggested that a male tortoise residing in the Prague Zoo might be a Pinta Island tortoise due to its shell structure.[25][26] Subsequent DNA analysis, however, revealed it was more likely to be from Pinzón Island, home of the subspecies C. n. duncanensis.[1][26][27]

Isabela Island[edit]

Whalers and pirates of the past used Isabela Island, the central and largest of the Galápagos Islands, as a tortoise dumping ground. Today, the remaining tortoises that live around Wolf Volcano have combined genetic markers from several subspecies.[28][29] In May 2007, analysis of genomic microsatellites (DNA sequences) suggested that individuals from a translocated group of C. n. abingdonii may still exist in the wild on Isabela.[30] Researchers have identified one male tortoise from the Volcano Wolf region which has half his genes in common with George's subspecies. This animal must be a first-generation intergrade between the subspecies of the islands Isabela and Pinta.[30] A pure Pinta tortoise possibly lives among the 2,000 tortoises on Isabela.[31]

The identification of eight individuals of mixed ancestry among only 27 individuals sampled (estimated Volcano Wolf population size 1,000–2,000)… suggests the need to mount an immediate and comprehensive survey… to search for additional individuals of Pinta ancestry.[30]

A recent trek to Isabela by Yale University researchers revealed that there are 17 first-generation hybrids living at Wolf Volcano.[8] The researchers plan on returning to Isabela in the spring of 2013 to look for surviving Pinta and to try to collect hybrids in an effort to start a captive selective-breeding program and to hopefully reintroduce Pintas back to their native island.[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e van Dijk, Peter Paul; Iverson, John B.; Shaffer, H. Bradley; Bour, Roger; Rhodin, Anders G. J. (2011). "Turtles of the World, 2011 Update: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution, and Conservation Status". In Rhodin, Anders G.J.; Pritchard, Peter C. H.; van Dijk, Peter Paul; Saumure, Raymond A.; Buhlmann, Kurt A.; Iverson, John B.; Mittermeier, Russell A. Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises. Chelonian Research Monographs, Number 5. p. 000.197. doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v4.2011. OCLC 472656069. 
  2. ^ Reynolds, Robert P.; Marlow, Ronald W. (1983). "Lonesome George, the Pinta Island Tortoise: A Case of Limited Alternatives". Noticias de Galápagos (Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Isles) 37: 14–7. 
  3. ^ a b Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of chelonians of the world". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 271. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. 
  4. ^ Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996). "Chelonoidis nigra ssp. abingdoni {sic}". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996). "Chelonoidis nigra (Geochelone nigra)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Nicholls, Henry (2007). Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World's Most Famous Tortoise. London: Pan Books. p. 2. ISBN 0330450115. 
  7. ^ Jones, Bryony (25 June 2012). "Lonesome George, last of the Pinta Island tortoises, dies". CNN. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c "Galapagos Tortoise 'Lonesome George' May Have Company". LiveScience. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c G̀eunther, Albert Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (1877). The gigantic land tortoises (living and extinct) in the collection of the British Museum. British Museum, Dept. of Zoology, London. 
  10. ^ "Biography of William Edgar De Crackenthorpe Cookson R.N.". 
  11. ^ "mid-Victorian RN vessels HMS Peterel". 
  12. ^ "Chelonoidis abingdonii (GÜNTHER, 1877)". The Reptile Database. 
  13. ^ "Galapagos Geology on the Web". Cornell University. 
  14. ^ Eradication of feral goats Capra hircus from Pinta Island, Galápagos, Ecuador
  15. ^ "Lonesome George". Galapagos Conservancy. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  16. ^ Gardner, Simon (6 February 2001). "Lonesome George faces own Galapagos tortoise curse". Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 
  17. ^ a b Proceso de Relaciones Públicas de la Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos (24 June 2012). "El mundo pierde al solitario George". Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  18. ^ "Lonesome George, last-of-his-kind Galapagos tortoise, dies". 25 June 2012. 
  19. ^ Raferty, Isolde. "Lonesome George, last-of-its-kind Galapagos tortoise, dies". MSNBC. Retrieved 2012-06-24. 
  20. ^ Nicholls, Henry (2006). Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon. London: Macmillan Science. ISBN 1-4039-4576-4. [page needed]
  21. ^ "Lonesome George, last of the Pinta Island tortoises, dies". CNN. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  22. ^ "Giant tortoise Lonesome George’s death leaves the world one subspecies poorer". Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  23. ^ "Lonesome George, last-of-his-kind Galapagos tortoise, dies". IBN Live. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  24. ^ "Muere el Solitario George, la última tortuga gigante de isla Pinta". El Unveriso. Archived from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  25. ^ Sulloway, Frank J. (July 28, 2006). "Is Lonesome George Really Lonesome?". eSkeptic. ISSN 1556-5696. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 
  26. ^ a b Nicholls, Henry (2007). Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World's Most Famous Tortoise. London: Pan Books. p. 142. ISBN 0330450115. 
  27. ^ Russello, M. A.; et al. (2007). "Lineage identification of Galápagos tortoises in captivity worldwide". Animal Conservation 10 (3): 304–311. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2007.00113.x. 
  28. ^ Michael Marshall (26 June 2012). "Lonesome George dies but his subspecies genes survive". New Scientist. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  29. ^ Henry Nicholls (6 June 2007). "Galapagos tortoises: untangling the evolutionary threads". New Scientist. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  30. ^ a b c Russello, Michael A.; Beheregaray, Luciano B.; Gibbs, James P.; Fritts, Thomas; Havill, Nathan; Powell, Jeffrey R.; Caccone, Adalgisa (1 May 2007). "Lonesome George is not alone among Galápagos tortoises" (PDF). Current Biology 17 (9): R317–R318. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.03.002. PMID 17470342. Retrieved 2012-01-11. [dead link]
  31. ^ "Iconic tortoise George may not be last of his kind". ABC News. Agence France-Presse. May 1, 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 

External links[edit]