Loss of a Lonesome friend | July 9th, 2012

FROM THE FIELD… a note from Tui

 Lonesome George © Tui De Roy

 Lonesome George © Tui De Roy

Once again I’m on my yearly pilgrimage to Galapagos, three months this time. But today is a day of mourning – for the islands, and for the world: Yesterday morning Lonesome George, icon of conservation and the only remaining Pinta Tortoise, breathed his last breath. No illness, no warnings, a gentleman tortoise “in his prime”, he leaves shock, sadness and shattered hopes in his wake…. extinction is forever.

As I write these words looking out to Santa Fe Island on this mid-year morning, it is sunny and hot, verging on steamy, when in this season we would normally expect a chill, misty breeze with low overcast skies. The weather this year is the oddest I can recall, with unprecedented heat and torrential rains during the “hot season” (January-March), and spiking sea surface temperatures for weeks on end. Yet this was not El Niño, since only surface waters are affected. The ecosystem is proving its incredible resilience once more. Seabirds are courting and nesting everywhere, plump sea lion pups grace the beaches by the scores, and sea turtles are feeding in the shallows in ever-increasing numbers. And while the dreaded Philornis botfly  has made unprecedented inroads into the nesting efforts of Darwin’s finches this year, the crafty little birds are taking advantage of the fly’s decrease in the dry season to raise their chicks NOW, almost six months later than normal. At this moment the islands are alive with the happy chirpings of fledglings – long live these adaptable little characters.

Notes of sympathy for Lonesome George are flooding in from around the world, such as these words from Phyllis Stratman who was on the Islands in May 2012:

“I am so very moved. We had been given hope that he might move forward to generate a new line of offspring albeit of a hybrid species. I guess it was not to be. How tragic it is to witness extinction first hand when we just saw him so few weeks ago. My heart is weighted down. What can our generation do to salvage anything of importance if we cannot save one lone being? You will be sorely missed, George.”