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What Is a Pinta Island Tortoise?

Karize Uy
Karize Uy

The Pinta Island tortoise is a rare species of tortoise that is only found in the Pinta Island, one of the small islands of the Galapagos Islands, famed for the presence of many exotic animal species. In fact, the tortoise is said to be the rarest animal in the world, with just only one of its kind still living, nicknamed “Lonesome George” or “Solitario Jorge” in Spanish. The Pinta Island Tortoise is technically a subspecies of the Chelonoidis nigra, the biggest tortoise species in the world. Its full scientific name is Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni.

Decades ago, it was thought that the Pinta Island tortoise was extinct already. Early settlers in the Galapagos Islands introduced farmed animals, such as goats and pigs, resulting in the destruction of the Islands’ wildlife and insufficient food supply for the indigenous animals. Hunting, especially for exotic food such as the Island’s tortoises, also had a large impact on damaging the wildlife. It was only in 1971 that the existence of Lonesome George was confirmed when József Vágvölgyi, a Hungarian malacologist who specialized in mollusks saw the creature. Since its discovery, the tortoise has been moved to and protected in the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Tortoises in general have a very long lifespan that can reach past 100 years, with the sexual maturity just peaking at 40 to 50 years of age. The Pinta Island tortoise, specifically, is estimated to live in the wild for more than a century. Lonesome George, in particular, ranges from 90 to 100 years old and weighs around 198 pounds (about 90 kg). This species of tortoise also tends to have a long neck, with a very high-domed shell, both of which indicate that its natural habitat may have been arid and on plains and lowlands. It also sleeps away three-fourths of its day, averaging 16 hours of sleep daily.

The Pinta Island tortoise is currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) red list, having just one of the tortoise’s kind officially recorded as still being in existence. It has been discovered, however, that the genotype of this species may still be present in other tortoise species in Isabela Island, another island of the Galapagos. It is also possible that a zoo located in Prague may have another “abingdoni” subspecies, as the tortoise is said to have been from Pinta Island, like Lonesome George. In an effort to preserve and pass down Lonesome George’s genes, researchers have been attempting to mate him with female Galapagos tortoises of other subspecies. Unfortunately, all the eggs resulting from the mating process have been infertile or did not hatch at all.

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