Resurrecting Lonesome George

Turtle Conservancy’s Dr. Paul Gibbons recently joined a team of over 60 scientists, field biologists, veterinarians, and park rangers on what has been called the most ambitious species recovery effort ever attempted. The team used machetes to carve their way through 20 square miles of rugged wilderness covering the western slope of Vulcán Wolf on Isabela Island in the Galápagos, where an unusual assemblage of tortoises, including descendants of Lonesome George, is thriving. These tortoises likely wound up here sometime in the 19th century after they had been collected on neighboring islands to provision whaling ships, then dumped overboard to reduce weight. Those that managed to swim ashore settled on the island and bred with the native tortoise species. Dr. Gibbons had encounters with more than 500 wild tortoises while he was there. The expedition chose 32 of those with the best characteristics for captive breeding, which will help restore extinct species and the tortoise-dependent ecosystems on the islands of Floreana and Pinta.

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