3 min read

He Died Three Years Ago. Now Scientists Want To Bring Him Back.

Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George earned his name by being the only remaining Pinta giant tortoise in the entire world.

He lived to be more than a century old, and when Lonesome George died, his subspecies of Galápagos tortoise went extinct.

Until now.

Possibly, that is, according to a recent New York Times article.

Scientists at a research and breeding center on Santa Cruz Island are hoping to analyze the DNA of 32 similarly gened tortoises in just the right way to resurrect the extinct species. They pulled the tortoises from a pool of 1,600 tagged Galápagos tortoises whose blood samples were taken in 2008.

If their plans are successful, they'll release a new population of Pinta tortoises into the wild within five to 10 years. That would be an extraordinary addition to an ecosystem in need of rejuvenation. Tortoises help spread plant seeds and other nutrients by simply walking at ground level.

In effect, bringing back the Pinta tortoise may also help restore other wildlife as well.

In the 1500s, there were about 250,000 Galápagos tortoises, but that number dropped by the 1800s when sailors began using the animals for their meat. Now, there are only an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 living in the wild and no known specimen of the Pinta subspecies.

The return of the Pinta depends on the success of the scientists' research and the eagerness of the 32 tortoises to reproduce.

Hopefully they find the research and breeding facility more conducive for baby-making than it sounds.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Galápagos tortoises are an extinct species. There are several subspecies of Galápagos tortoises, and Lonesome George is believed by many to have been the last of the Pinta giant tortoises.