Lonesome George is dead, but extinct tortoise species may be revived

It has been six months since the passing of a giant Galapagos Islands tortoise named Lonesome George, who was believed to have been the last of his species.

But apparently, we live in an era when going extinct doesn’t have to mean staying extinct.

Lonesome George, believed to have been about 100 years old when he died, had no offspring and there were no known members of his Pinta Island subspecies left.

But researchers at Yale University are hopeful that they can resurrect the species by using DNA samples from other tortoises with similar traits and crossbreeding, in a process that would require so much time that today’s living humans would not see its completion.

“It would be the first time that a species was recovered after having been declared extinct,” Edwin Naula, director of the Galapagos National Park, told The Associated Press. “This is going to take about 100 to 150 years.”

AFP reports that scientists have collected samples from at least 17 tortoises that have similar genetic traits to Lonesome George, including some that may be from the same genus. These samples were collected on Isabella Island, which is part of the same archipelago.

The Galapagos National Park announced in a statement that researchers have “identified nine females, three males and five youths with genes of the Pinta Island tortoise species.”

The passing of George, the statement declared, “does not represent the end of the Chelonoidis abingdonni species of Pinta Island giant tortoises.”

DNA samples have been delivered to a breeding center in California, the Global Post reports, where they will be used to help recover the species.

There were once about 300,000 giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, which are comprised of 13 islands and numerous rocks and micro-islands and are located 620 miles west of Ecuador. Widespread hunting during the 18th and 19th centuries decimated tortoise numbers.

Today there are up to 40,000 tortoises belonging to 10 species. And who knows, maybe in another 100 years or so the return of the Pinta Island subspecies will make as many headlines as the passing of Lonesome George last June 24.