MNN Galleries

8 species on life support

By: Bryan Nelson on Feb. 6, 2013, 11:07 a.m.
Pinta Island tortoise

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

7 of 10

Pinta Island tortoise

Tragic news came in 2012 when Lonesome George, the last known surviving Pinta Island tortoise, met his end. George had become a symbol of the need for enhanced conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands, where the species originated. Once widespread across Pinta Island, the species eventually became imperiled after years of being hunted for meat. Goats that were introduced to the island in 1958 ate much of the vegetation, and the species was believed to have vanished from the wild.

Surprising new research on tortoises from nearby Isabella Island could offer a glimmer of hope for the species, however. Genetic evidence revealed at least 17 first-generation Pinta Island tortoise hybrids living there. These hybrids have one full-blooded Pinta Island tortoise parent, raising the possibility that at least one of the species is still roaming the island and breeding. Lonesome George may not have been the last of his kind after all.

Scientists plan to survey the island's tortoise population in the hopes of locating this rugged survivor. Even if no survivor is found, it may also be possible to breed the species back into existence by mating the first-generation hybrids.