Life is hard for Lonesome George. As the last of the Abingdon Island subspecies of Galápagos tortoise (Geochelone nigra abingdoni), Lonesome George is the world's rarest creature.

Of course, Lonesome George has humans to thank for this genocide. Sharing the once perceived destiny of all Galápagos tortoises, many of his kin were served as meals for busy sailors and pirates-on-the-go. Then, in the 1950's, feral goats were introduced into the Abingdon Island ecosystem. "Those goddamn goats," Lonesome George would likely say. And so the tortoise population rapidly went to shit with goats eating away the island's vegetation. It wasn't until 1971, during a routine hunt for those same goats, that Lonesome George was discovered, obviously alone.

Now the sixty-to-ninety-year-old tortoise lives at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. In 1992, Lonesome George began to share his corral with two female Volcán Wolf Tortoises, chosen for their subspecies's close physical similiarity. And, after all, what could be more appealing to a young, sexually mature tortoise than a naughty, little Ménage à trois tortues? Lonesome George, however, was not impressed.

So efforts were made to entice Lonesome George, in hopes that he might still be the savior of his species. What Lonesome George needed to do was man-up and do the right thing. Maybe, the researchers thought, he just doesn't know how to do it. Maybe he's lived his whole sad life alone. What Lonesome George needed was an education on the subject of tortoise love. To this end, his keepers arranged for him to watch as younger tortoise males mated. "Do you see, L.G.?" his keepers seemed to be saying. "Do you see what we're asking you to do?" Yet still Lonesome George sat like a dumpy blob. Rumours spread that Lonesome George was a homosexual.

Researchers considered artificial insemination. First, however, a human needed to become intimate enough with Lonesome George, whose reputation was somewhat that of an asshole, and who typically bit nearby people or tortoises. Sveva Grigioni, a Swiss zoology graduate and park volunteer, took on the job. Because Sveva had proven herself to be rather adept at ejaculating male tortoises, sometimes even within fifteen minutes of meeting them, Lonesome George's elusive seed appeared in reach. But despite earning the title of Lonesome George's girlfriend, Sveva was unable to coax a sperm sample from her aloof beau, and when her visa expired four months after her arrival, she was made to return to Switzerland empty handed.

In desperation, the Darwin Station offered a reward, $10,000 to the person who could find the ideal mate for Lonesome George. Many female tortoises were presented, but Lonesome George could not be seduced, and his celibacy was maintained.

Lonesome George's apathy astounded, and while the conservationist movement was busy framing his wrinkled puss as the symbol of hope for a renewable world, Lonesome George sat idly by. However, his status as a symbol did not, and, in 1995, the simple tortoise found himself the centre of violent politics between local fishermen and conservationists. The real debate was over the unstainable harvesting of native sea cucumbers, a subject that Lonesome George clearly did not give a damn about. Nevertheless, when the conservationists pushed for a quota on sea cucumber fishing, a gang of fishermen armed with machetes stormed the Darwin Centre. For four days they held researchers, keepers and tortoises hostage. And, they threatened to kill Lonesome George, holding a blade to the unwilling mascot's neck, as if it were the neck of the entire conservationist movement, until their opposition relented to their demands. Lonesome George was unharmed; the sea cucumbers were eventually fished into near extinction.

As the danger subsided, the tempo of Lonesome George's life slowed down again to a pace more befitting a large, asexual tortoise. Scientists, frustrated that he wouldn't mate, more frustrated that they couldn't clone him, were beginning to look elsewhere for the salvation of the Abingdon Island Tortoise. In early 2007, a team of researchers believed they'd found that salvation on the neighbouring island of Isabela, where they'd discovered an Isabela/Abingdon hybrid tortoise. DNA analysis confirmed the tortoise's parents: a Volcán Wolf Tortoise mother and an Abingdon Island Tortoise father. Some scientists pointed out that Lonesome George might have trouble mating with this newly discovered hybrid, it being male and all. Still other, more cynical minds took this as proof positive that the two subspecies could interbreed, and Lonesome George was really just fucking with everyone.

Then, suddenly, the courtship was over; Lonesome George made it with both his girlfriends. Tortoise eggs had been discovered inside a nest. The world was astonished. It seems Lonesome George wasn't an asshole; he was a gentleman, and at sixty-to-ninety-years-old, he had hit his sexual prime. But three months after Lonesome George had taken his rightful place as patriarch of his subspecies, disaster struck the island of Santa Cruz. Scientists announced that 80% of the eggs showed signs of infertility.

Now, while his keepers pray for a miracle, the pragmatic are considering what to do next. Some geneticists, citing DNA research on Galápagos tortoise subspecies, suggest that a Hood Island Tortoise would be a more suitable mate for Lonesome George; the Abingdon Island Tortoise shares more genetic similarities with the Hood Island Tortoise, than it does with the Volcán Wolf Tortoise. At present, the Darwin Centre is refusing this option, claiming that it runs counter to their ethical obligation to allow the natural, biological processes within the Galápagos islands to develop without human intervention. As it turns out, this too is met with complications as it runs counter to literally every other goddamn thing in Lonesome George's life.

The goats that once usurped Abingdon Island are gone, eradicated as an effort by the Galápagos National Park to restore balance to its ecosystem. However, without a tortoise population, the ecosystem is without a native herbivore to curtail the vegetative growth. By birthright, it is Lonesome George's island and his burden to bear. And while he has many years still to father young heirs to his genetic dynasty, the issue is whether or not he will do it in time to reclaim the land of his forefathers, and to undo his forced abdication. Life is hard for Lonesome George.


  1. "Tortoise conservation: One of a kind" by Henry Nicholls, Nature (June 3rd, 2004)
  2. "The Plight of Lonesome George" The Naked Scientists (March 2006)
  3. "Relative found for Lonesome George" by Helen Pilcher, BioEd Online (April 30th, 2007)
  4. "Iconic tortoise George may not be last of his kind" ABC News (May 1st, 2007)
  5. "Lonesome George about to become a father after 36 year wait" Wildlife Extra
  6. "Dwindling Hopes of Offspring from Lonesome" Charles Darwin Foundation (November 11th, 2008)
  7. "Galapagos bachelor tortoise struggles to be a dad" CBC News, Reuters (November 11th, 2008)
  8. "Geochelone nigra abingdoni" Wikipedia
  9. "Charles Darwin Research Station Fact Sheet: Pinta giant tortoise" Charles Darwin Foundation

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