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By Paul Sisco
03 December 2008
Lonesome George is the best known resident of the Galapagos Islands. Conservationists there say he is the only surviving Galapagos giant tortoise in the world and has been for decades. This has apparently been quite a year for the old fellow, who is estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. VOA's Paul Sisco explains.
Since Lonesome George was discovered in 1972, scientists at the reproduction center for giant tortoises at Galapagos National Park have played matchmaker. The last surviving Galapagos giant tortoise on the planet has been paired with countless females of related subspecies. But until recently, George has shown no interest in the opposite sex.
|George, the last surviving Galapagos giant tortoise on the planet |
To the surprise of researchers, however, two females paired with George laid a batch of eggs between July and September.
Park scientist Godfrey Merlen of Galapagos National Park stated,
|Park scientist Godfrey Merlen of Galapagos National Park|
"After 36 years of no reproductive effort whatsoever in an enormous effort by human beings to make him reproduce, George by himself has produced, through two females, a total of eleven eggs which are now in an incubator."
Several more eggs were eventually uncovered. Park rangers carefully weighed, cared for and catalogued their growth in incubation. It takes more than 100 days for these tortoise eggs to hatch.
Alas, in November, bad news was reported at a one-of-a-kind news conference in Galapagos National Park.
"The eggs produced by females living with Lonesome George are not doing very well," said Merlen. "It seems that a number of them are losing too much weight during the development process and that others are growing funguses on the outside of the eggs which is definitely not a good sign. It appears that at the moment, most of these eggs will not produce live young."
|Park rangers carefully weigh eggs|
A rounder, normal egg, not produced with George's contribution, was compared to one of Lonesome George's. Some of his eggs are misshapen. Many lost between 35 and 50 percent of their weight in the weeks following initial incubation.
Scientists say George, between 80 and 100 years old, is at his sexual peak. So, if he is not infertile, he could become a middle-aged parent in the months and years to come.
While George seems indifferent to fatherhood, scientists are holding out hope for him and the species. A park official says there is a slim chance the remaining eggs could hatch before the end of December.