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Lonesome George, the last Galapagos tortoise of his kind, died at the age of 100 in the Galapagos Islands. Lonesome George got his name because he showed little interest in people or other tortoises during his time in captivity. Scientists did everything they could to get him to make little Lonesome George babies, but they never succeeded.
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Lonesome George was born on the Galapagos' Pinta Island. Pinta Island tortoises were driven near extinction by whalers and seal hunters, who used them for food and oil. Feral goats finished the job by laying waste to the island's habitat. As a result George was the last known living Pinta tortoise, otherwise known as the giant Galapagos tortoise subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni.
Lonesome George was relocated to a field on Santa Cruz Island, where he spent the last 40 years of his life. Scientists had hoped to mate Lonesome George with a giant Galapagos tortoise of a closely related subspecies. George lived with two female tortoises and mated with one of them in 2008 and 2009. She laid eggs twice but none hatched. In the 1990s a Swiss graduate student smeared herself with female tortoise hormones and spent four months in a failed attempt to manually stimulate him. Perhaps Lonesome George never got over his attraction to Lord Devon's wartime helmet, which may have reminded him of a young tortoise.
As the last of his kind, Lonesome George became an icon for the conservation movement. "Conservation scientists on Monday said George was important because he symbolised both the rapid loss of biodiversity now taking place around the world, and provided the inspiration to begin restoring it in places like the Galapagos Islands," writes John Vidal, The Guardian's environment editor. In 1960 there were only 11 Galapagos tortoises left. Now there are 20,000.
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