(Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos)
You don’t have to walk far in the Santa Cruz town of Puerto Ayora before a pressing question is weighing on your mind. Who is Lonesome George? His picture adorns t-shirts in shop windows, and his name lends to magnets, road signs, and even Greg’s lunch order of “Lonesome George Chicken”. He’s a real celebrity this George and I was eager to meet the man himself.
George is a tortoise of course, because we’re in the Galapagos and in the Galapagos there’s no one more famous than the wildlife.
George rose to stardom when, in 1971, he was discovered alone on Pinta Island. Due to his solitary nature he was the last surviving tortoise of his species and handily picked up the sad, yet lasting handle of Lonesome George.
During our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station* we met another sailor, Alex, taking in the sights. As we walked around the tortoise wildlife pens with him I nearly jumped for joy when I saw a pen labelled with a large sign reading “Lonesome George”. I immediately started blabbering on about old Gorgeous George to our new friend Alex, when he, the perfect no-nonsense New Yorker, abruptly cut me off with a flat-out “George is dead.”
Alex clued me in that ol’Georgie Boy passed away nearly three years ago and is presently stuffed and on display in New York at the American Museum of Natural History. Well I never! I felt lied to, and cheated, and grossly led on. Turns out the Galapagos powers that be aren’t necessarily hiding the fact that their golden boy is no more, they just haven’t made the RIP George shirts quite yet.
After further investigation we did find a tombstone of sorts celebrating George’s life, and a little ways down the trail there was a sign telling his story. Despite great efforts by government and private sponsors for George to get lucky, the rebreeding campaign, which he was the figurehead, for never brought him the pitter patter of little tortoise feet. Lonesome George died, as his name would leave you to believe, alone and without anyone to carry on his species’ way.
* besides our Lonesome George revelation I was slightly disappointed by the Research Station. That disappointment lies squarely on me though. I ignorantly expected a more museum/discovery centre atmosphere where I roamed around reading relevant historical facts about the young Charlie Darwin and maybe even played some animated game where I had to spot the evolutionary changes in a succession of finches before the time runs out. Alas, I should learn how to read. It is not a come and whet your appetite on a diluted bit of groundbreaking history Center, it’s a full-blown, active Research Station. People are actually working here on further study of the amazing Galapagos. I’m lucky just to be able to walk through it.