The face of extinction
Usually the beginning of July is a time to celebrate in Canada, however, the world was in mourning… mourning the loss of Lonesome George, a giant tortoise and the last remaining individual of the Pinta Island tortoises.
With his passing, this subspecies is now extinct.
An icon of the Galapagos Islands, George attracted the attention of tourists for decades. Given his rare status, he also garnered the attention of scientists who were trying to find a way to save the species. George became the face of extinction for many people, an indication of what could happen if we didn’t take better care of the planet and learn how to share with the millions of other species out there. And now George is gone, extinct right before our eyes.
Tortoises used to be plentiful on the Galapagos Islands until the late 19th century but many of them were brought to the point of extinction after extensive hunting of them for their meat. The introduction of goats to the islands also led to the destruction of much of their habitat. George was the last known Pinta Island tortoise, one of several subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise, and had been alone for decades, possibly longer, hence his nickname ‘Lonesome George’.
For a species which could live up to 200 years, George, a male thought to be approximately 100 years old, was just a young adult. Everyone thought there would still be lots of time to try to find a way to bring them back – to save George; however, with no living females of this species known to be alive, the challenge already seemed impossible. Attempts to mate him with related subspecies also did not work as he refused to breed with them.
Without his knowing, George has symbolized the impact humans have been having on our fellow species for centuries. He was the last of his kind and we’ve known for decades that time was running out. Unfortunately, time ran out for him on June 24th.
Species are important to us and to our ecosystems. Humans are not the only animals on the planet, though at times, it seems that people forget that. Having healthy oceans, forests, skies, rivers and lakes not only means that they are clean and available for us to ‘use’, but that they are also filled with the many wonderful and unique species and the habitats that make them what they are. Species are the lifeline of our planet and without them; this ‘third rock from the sun’ just wouldn’t be the same.
I never got to meet George but I am deeply saddened by losing him. It’s sad that after decades of knowing what we’re doing to this planet and working so hard to keep it safe, that we are still losing species. And George is not the only one. There are many species facing extinction all across the planet, including some here in Canada, like the North Atlantic right whale.
I liked knowing that George was out there, fighting to keep his species on this planet. It is sad that in this day and age we’re still losing species from this planet because of human activities. Many others out there need our help. And despite all they face on a daily basis, they’re fighting as hard as they can to stick around – we need to make sure that we are doing what we can as well, to protect them and the habitats they need to survive.