Lonesome George, Galapagos Islands

Welcome Home, Lonesome George!

Lonesome George – THE symbol of the Galapagos and the threat of extinction – has finally returned to the Islands. He arrived 17 February, and his new home was opened to the public on 23 February.

His homecoming included the inauguration of his new climate-control “apartment,” the Symbol of Hope Salon, and the new Giant Tortoise Route at the Galapagos National Park headquarters and Charles Darwin Research Station at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

Lonesome George was also given the title Cultural National Heritage by Ecuador’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Lonesome George: The Galapagos Icon

In 1972, Lonesome George (called Solitario Jorge in Ecuador) was discovered on Pinta Island and brought to the breeding center on Santa Cruz Island where he spent the next 40 years. He became a symbol of the fight against species extinction.

Despite repeated searches of Pinta Island and in zoos around the globe, no female Pinta Island tortoise was ever found. With the advent of genetic testing, scientists discovered that tortoises from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island were close relatives. Several times, the females laid eggs — but all proved to be infertile. Later, two females from the Española Island, a species even more closely related, were placed with him. Again, no offspring were produced.

Lonesome George, the last pure-bred Pinta Island giant tortoise, died on June 24, 2012 without heirs. He was approximately 90 years old.

After his death, his body was taken to the United States, where with the assistance of the Galapagos Conservancy and taxidermy experts at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, his body was painstakingly preserved.

After two years of work, Lonesome George was exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History September 2014-January 2015. In the meantime, the Galapagos National Park along with The Galapagos Conservancy and other agencies worked to build his new home with state-of-the-art climate control to ensure his preservation for many generations to come.

A New Route Awaits You

When visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, tours now stop in at Lonesome George’s new show case, the Symbol of Hope Salon (Sala Símbolo de Esperanza). It is the last stop on the new Tortoise Route (Ruta de la Tortuga) that begins at the renovated Fausto Llerena Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island.

The Tortoise Route is a series of boardwalks leading to areas with different themes: Everything Changes (Todo Cambia, which examines evolution in the Galapagos Islands), Curious Traveler (Viajero Curioso, about Charles Darwin), New Travelers (Nuevas Viajeras, about breeding giant tortoises in captivity) and Giant Tortoises (Tortugas Gigantes, the environmental importance of giant tortoises, their threatened extinction, and the restoration of ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands). All displays are bilingual.

If you are traveling on your own to the Galapagos Islands, the Ruta de la Tortuga and Lonesome George’s new gallery are open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Future of the Breeding Program

The ecological niche that giant tortoises occupy is extremely important to the environmental health of the Galapagos Islands. To restore the four islands where tortoises are now extinct (Fernandina – due to volcanic eruption; and Pinta, Floreana and Santa Fe, due to humans) is a seemingly impossible goal.

However, a new project is one step to making this dream a reality. Geneticists have discovered that tortoise populations on Wolf Volcano (Isabela) are a genetic mix of the now-extinct species of Floreana and Pinta islands. Specimens have been gathered, and will be bred to repopulate these isles.

Perhaps in the future your tour to these islands will feature the sighting of giant tortoises.

 

To learn more about the preservation of Lonesome George and the future breeding programs, watch the fascinating documentary, Preserving Lonesome George.

 

 

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Photo credit: A. Davey

Swallow-tailed gull with chick, Genovesa Island, Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in March

It’s Summer in the Galapagos Islands!

March receives the most precipitation in these desert isles (though not every day), and the Highlands and the arid coastal areas are lush with vegetation. The sun is intense (use plenty of protection!) and humidity is high.

You will have no doubt you are in a tropical paradise.

On Land
  • Marine iguanas are nesting on Fernandina and North Seymour islands.
  • Their cousins, the land iguanas, are also nesting.
  • New-born giant Galapagos tortoises are emerging from their shells. In some areas, these gentle giants are still laying eggs in the wild.
At Sea
  • Green sea turtles are nesting on Galapagos beaches. Be sure to follow all special instructions about staying away from their nesting areas.
In the Air
  • Male Great Frigatebirds are inflating their red throat pouches, part of their mating and nesting rituals. You can catch the action on San Cristobal and Genovesa (Tower) islands.
  • The March equinox (19-21 March, depending on the year) marks the return of the Waved Albatross to Española Island.
  • Galapagos Penguins are still very active in the water, especially around Isabela Island.
  • Keep your eyes on the cliffs, as you have a good chance of seeing fluffy Swallow-tailed Gull chicks.
Humans
  • Some years, pre-Lenten Carnaval, which ends on Ash Wednesday, occurs in March. Other years, it is Easter (Semana Santa) that is observed during this month. (Click here to see future dates of Ash Wednesday and here for future dates of Semana Santa, which runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.) Galapagos is a popular destination for vacationing Ecuadorians during both of these holidays. Expect higher prices and more sightings of Homo sapiens.
  • Outside of these holidays, it is the low season in these Islands, which means you can find some great deals on tours and cruises.
Climate

March is summertime in the Galapagos Islands. Days are hot with strong sun tempered by sporadic showers, and evenings pleasantly are cool.

  • Daytime air temperatures reach 31ºC (88ºF) and drop to 23ºC (74ºF) at night.
  • The Highlands receive up to 5 centimeters (2 inches) in March. Even though it will rain most days, you can still expect about six hours of clear skies per day.
  • The sea is warm (25ºC / 77ºF), even out at the western isles. Visibility is fantastic, making for great snorkeling with penguins and colorful tropical fish.
  • Expect challenging disembarkations at Bartholomew, Gardner Bay, North Seymour and Puerto Egas (Santiago Island) due to deep surges from the north.

 

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in March? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Photo credit: claumoho