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24 Jun 2012 at 6:13 pm #1635
It is with great sadness that I read today of the death of Lonesome George in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands. He was the last living Pinta Island giant saddleback tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni), so named because their carapaces resembled equestrian saddles. I met Lonesome George on each of the three occasions that I visited the Galapagos Islands, making a special point of visiting his pen at the Darwin Research Station just northeast of the small port city on Santa Cruz Island because I knew of him from my readings – a last representative of a line long thought already extinct, discovered by astonished biologists doing an inventory of land snails and taken to the research station to protect him – and found the finality of his special kind of loneliness so fascinating. There was never any doubt about the outcome of his sojourn. Time after time he was introduced to his closest relatives from nearby islands, and after decades of futility finally succeeded in mating with a few – all of whose eggs proved infertile. He carried the extinction of his line within him like a pledge.
On one occasion, because I had organized a fundraising tour of the islands for the Nature Conservancy, I was allowed into the pen and got to pet George and scratch his chin, which he seemed to find very pleasurable. There was something remarkable, even awe-inspiring, about touching this centenarian outcast, feel the blood that had been pumping in those veins for over a hundred years through the thin leathery skin of his throat. And there’s a monumental pathos about extinction, about the passing entirely out of existence of a being so complex and resilient, something that took aeons for nature to shape against the unimaginable odds contesting its existence in the first place. George survived on his island against the most monstrous odds too – his kin were done in by the predations of meat-hungry whalers and sealers and their shipborn rats who destroyed the tortoises’ nests.
And the Earth becomes, once again, immeasurably poorer for the interdiction of such a long miracle.
Rick WallachQuote24 Jun 2012 at 9:14 pm #163627 Jun 2012 at 10:23 pm #1659
Yes, a long miracle. No better way to say it. And with every such loss, not to be put right again. Rick, I’m sure you know the gorgeous book of photography “Witness: Endangered Species of North America” by Middleton and Liittschwager, intro by E.O. Wilson. Intimate, poignant studio portraits of everything from Grizzly bears to fringed prairie orchids. Stark, magical, and sobering.
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