|Pinta Island Tortoise|
Lonesome George, the last known individual of his subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, died in June of 2012.
|Common Name||Pinta Giant Tortoise, Abingdon Island Tortoise, and Abingdon Island Giant Tortoise|
|Range||Ecuador's Pinta Island.|
|Species|| Chelonoidis nigra|
Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii
The Pinta Island tortoise, (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii), also known as the pinta giant tortoise, abingdon Island tortoise, or abingdon island giant tortoise, was a subspecies of galápagos tortoise native to Ecuador's Pinta Island.
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. By the mid-20th century, it was assumed that the subspecies was extinct 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 the death of Lonesome George. 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.
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. The name, abingdonii, derives from Abingdon IslavklgKRnd, 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. In 1876 Commander William Cookson brought three male specimens (along with other subspecies of Galápagos tortoise) to London aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Peterel.
Some synonyms of Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii are: Testudo abingdonii Günther, 1877; Testudo elephantopus abingdonii – Mertens & Wermuth, 1955; Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni – Pritchard, 1967; Geochelone nigra abingdoni – Iverson, 1992; Geochelone abingdoni – Valverde, 2004.
In 1958 goats were introduced to Pinta Island, eating much of the herbs and shrubs to the detriment of the natural habitat. A prolonged effort to exterminate the goats is now complete, and the island's vegetation is starting to return to its former state.
- see Lonesome George.
The last known individual of the subspecies was a male named Lonesome George (Spanish: El Solitario Jorge/George), who died on June 24, 2012. 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.
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 June 24 2012, at 8:00 am local time, Director of the Galápagos National Park Edwin Naula 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.
Possible Remaining Individuals
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. Subsequent DNA analysis, however, revealed it was more likely to be from Pinzón Island, home of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra duncanensis.
Whalers and sea 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. In May 2007, analysis of genomic microsatellites (DNA sequences) suggested that individuals from a translocated group of Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii may still exist in the wild on Isabela. 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. A pure Pinta tortoise possibly lives among the 2,000 tortoises on Isabela.
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.
A recent trek to Isabela by Yale University researchers revealed that there are 17 first-generation hybrids living at Wolf Volcano. The researchers plan on returning to Isabela in the spring of 2013 to look for surviving Pinta and to try and collect hybrids in an effort to start a captive selective breeding program and to hopefully re-introduce Pintas back to their native island.