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BYE, GEORGE; He was surrounded by females but failed to mate and now the last remaining giant tortoise has died aged 100.

Byline: TOM PARRY

LONESOME George, the last giant tortoise of his kind, has died and made his species extinct.

He was thought to be more than 100 years old and had been introduced to a succession of females from similar species but never managed to breed.

The plodding reptile became a symbol for the Galapagos Islands, which inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

And his death came as a shock because he was not particularly old for a giant tortoise and scientists thought he would live for several more decades.

As the last surviving member of the distinct Pinta Island sub-species, he was cherished by conservationists who tried their hardest to find him a mate.

But despite the introduction of females from neighbouring islands in the Pacific archipelago, these attempts failed.

And George's keeper, Fausto Llerena found his body at a breeding centre on the island of Santa Cruz on Monday.

Galapagos National Park head Edwin Naula said: "Lonesome George's body was motionless. His life cycle came to an end." After George was found in 1972, scientists tried to mate him with two female tortoises from a nearby island but the eggs they produced were infertile.

And two females from another island most closely related to Pinta tortoises were placed with him last year, with no luck.

The islands' giant tortoise population was decimated after the arrival of humans. They were hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction, while their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland.

TOURISTS But a recovery programme has increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today.

George was visited by thousands of tourists every year to take pictures of one of the rarest creatures on Earth.

The islands off the coast of Ecuador often attract celebrities, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt earlier this year. And they were perfect for Darwin's ideas on evolution in the 19th century.

Although coming from a common ancestor, the tortoises on the different islands became distinct as they evolved to suit their surroundings.

AND THE OLDEST IS..

A TORTOISE named Jonathan is the oldest living animal, at 178. He arrived on the British territory St Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean, in 1882.

THE world's oldest living tree is thought to be 4,844 years old. Methuselah, a Great Basin bristlecone pine, can be found in Inyo County, California.

ONE specimen of the Antarctic sponge Cinachyra antarctica is said to be 1,550 years old. The cold waters of the Southern Ocean slow the growth rate.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jun 26, 2012
Words:443
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