When the Galápagos tortoise Lonesome George died at the Charles Darwin Research Station earlier this year, it was thought that his subspecies had gone extinct. Researchers at the Darwin Station had hoped Lonesome George would breed with tortoises from neighboring islands, but he died never having sired progeny in captivity. He was the last of his line.
But a new study conducted by Yale University researchers has found that tortoises living in the wild near Wolf Volcano share much of the same DNA as George. And they agree that it’s possible more of his kind could still be living in the wild. A survey of 1,667 wild tortoises identified 17 descendants of the same ancestors of George. Of the 17, five were juveniles suggesting that a purebred tortoise, the same as George, may still live on the island. If one does exist, it wouldn’t be the first time this subspecies has made a startling appearance.
George’s subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, was wiped out by human settlers in the early 1900s and declared extinct—until a George was discovered in 1972.