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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Pinta Island Tortoise?

The Pinta Island Tortoise, known scientifically as Chelonoidis abingdonii, was a species of giant tortoise native to Pinta Island in the Galápagos. These tortoises were known for their large size, with some individuals weighing over 200 kilograms. They played a crucial role in their ecosystem, but sadly, the species is now considered extinct.

Why did the Pinta Island Tortoise become extinct?

The extinction of the Pinta Island Tortoise was primarily due to human activities. Introduced species such as goats competed for food resources, while hunting and exploitation for oil severely reduced their numbers. Despite conservation efforts, including the famous last survivor "Lonesome George," the species was declared extinct after George's death in 2012.

How big did Pinta Island Tortoises get?

Pinta Island Tortoises were among the largest tortoises in the world. They could grow to be over 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length and weigh more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds). Their size was an adaptation to their environment, allowing them to reach high vegetation and store nutrients and water in their bodies.

What was the lifespan of a Pinta Island Tortoise?

Giant tortoises like those from Pinta Island are known for their longevity. These tortoises could live well over a century, with some individuals possibly reaching up to 200 years of age. Their slow metabolism and the isolated, predator-free environment of the Galápagos Islands contributed to their long lifespans.

What efforts were made to conserve the Pinta Island Tortoise?

Conservation efforts for the Pinta Island Tortoise included habitat protection and the removal of invasive species from Pinta Island. The most notable effort was the attempt to find a mate for "Lonesome George," the last known individual, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Scientists also explored breeding programs with closely related species to preserve the genetic legacy.

Are there any living relatives of the Pinta Island Tortoise?

Yes, there are living relatives of the Pinta Island Tortoise. The Galápagos Islands are home to several other species of giant tortoises that are closely related to the Pinta Island Tortoise. Conservation efforts continue for these species to prevent further extinctions and to maintain the biodiversity of the Galápagos archipelago.

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