November 11, 2008

Lonesome George Thought To Be Infertile

A 90-year-old Galapagos island tortoise seemed to defy the intellect of modern conservationists when he mated for the first time in decades, but it appears that he still may not become a father.

The giant Pinta Island tortoise, named Lonesome George, is the last of his kind.

After trying almost everything from artificial insemination to having George watch younger males mate, his keepers had nearly lost hope. At 90 years old George is in his sexual prime and his low libido even raised tabloid-like rumors the 198 pounds (90 kilograms) creature preferred other males.

George mated with two females this year. The females belong to a different subspecies of giant tortoise.

However it appears that 80 percent of the eggs produced appear to be infertile, researchers said.

"We are puzzled. We will leave the eggs in the incubators and try to find answers," said Washington Tapia, a park official in change of George's reproduction program. "It's too early to say if George is infertile, only genetic research could tell us that."

Scientists still have high hopes for the remaining 20 percent of the eggs. George's keepers placed his eggs in incubators decorated with religious images in hopes of a miracle.

Meanwhile, researchers are searching a nearby island in hopes of finding another male capable of mating.

Tortoises have been hunted by pirates and sailors for their meat and their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced onto the islands. George was the last tortoise found on Pinta in 1971.

Ecuador has declared the islands at risk and the United Nations says efforts to protect them should continue. Some 20,000 giant tortoises still live on the islands.


Image Caption: Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta giant tortoise. Courtesy Wikipedia