Lonesome George

by Henry Nicholls

Lonesome George Lonesome George is a 5 foot long 200 pound tortoise between 60 and 200 years old In 1971 he was discovered on the remote Galapagos island of Pinta from which tortoises had supposedly been extinct for years He has been at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island ever since on the off chance that scientific ingenuity will conjure up a way of reproducing him and resurrecting his species Meanwhile countless tourists and dozens of baffled scientists have looked on as the celeb

Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan US

Author : Henry Nicholls

ISBN : 9780330450119

Year : 2007

Language: en

File Size : 20.37 MB

Category : Science Math

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7 l e Galdpaps Islands

The Galripagos archipelago is made up of around a dozen sizeable
islands and more than 100 rocky outcrops. This volcanic chainsits in
the Pacific Ocean about 1000 km o f fthe west coast of South America
and has emerged f+om the sea floor within the last few million years.
Throughout their histmy, these islands have been namedand renamed,
some hemg christened more than 10 times. As a general rule, a suite of
(quint)essenriallyRritah names suwrved into the 20th century, when
the cuwent Ecuadorian nomenclature achieved the ascendancy. Lonesome George uses these modem names wherever possible to avoid
confusion. In chapters citing btoncal texts, some of the old names
uppear, wtth the contemporary equivalent given in brackets. For
example Lonesome George's home, today called Pinta, was once
known as Abingdon Island.

LONESOME GEORGE
The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon
Henry Nicholls

Palgrave
Macmillan

© Henry Nicholls 2006, 2010
All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this
publication may be made without written permission.
No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted
save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence
permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90
Tottenham Court Road, London wn 4LP.
Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication
may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The author has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 2006 by
Macmillan
Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010
Companies and representatives throughout the world

ISBN 978-0-330-45011-9
ISBN 978-1-137-09745-3 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-1-137-09745-3
This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully
managed and sustained forest sources.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
12 11 10 9 8 7
15 14 13 12 11 10

Transferred to Digital Printing 2012

To Harry

Contents

List of figures
Acknowledgements
Prologue: A conservation icon

1 Discovery
2 Lonesome George's girlfriend
3 The origin of a species
4 Random drift
5 Man trap
6 Lock up your tortoise
7 The mysteries of Pinta
8 The diaspora
9 Wild at heart
10 Faking organisms
11 Clones and chimeras

What Now?
Notes and sources
Bibliography and further reading
Figure acknowledgements
Index

VlZl

xi
xv

1
17
33

51
72
91
110
130
145
161
174
190
194
207
225
226

vii

List of figures

Figure P.1
Figure P.2
Figure 1.1
Figure 1.2
Figure 1.3
Figure 1.4
Figure 2.1
Figure 2.2
Figure 2.3
Figure 2.4
Figure 3.1
Figure 3.2
Figure 3.3
Figure 3.4
Figure 3.5

The Galapagos archipelago
Charles Darwin, from the frontispiece
to his Journal of Researches

xiv
xvii

The first photograph of Lonesome George,
1
taken by Joseph Vagvolgyi on 1 December 1971
The 'antediluvian' Pinta tortoise engravings that
inspired Peter Pritchard
3
Lonesome George moments before leaving Pinta 9
Lonesome George arrives at the CDRS on Santa
Cruz
10
Conservationists went to great lengths to
prevent red wolves hybridizing with coyotes
Florida panthers have suffered badly from
inbreeding
Three-month-old Seychelles giant tortoise from
the captive breeding programme on Silhouette
Sveva Grigioni at work with Lonesome George
Members of the Noma expedition in Darwin
Bay on Genovesa
The ill-fated Pinz6n tortoisekeeps its head
above water
3D view of the sea floor topography in the
Galapagos
Fitzroy's map of the Galapagos
A giant Haast's eagle attacks a New Zealand moa

18
19

25
30

34
36
39
41
48

b s t of Figures ix

Figure 4.1
Figure 4.2
Figure 4.3
Figure 4.4
Figure 4.5
Figure 4.6
Figure 5.1
Figure 5.2
Figure 5.3
Figure 5.4

Charles Darwin pacing alongside a giant tortoise
on Santiago
Marine iguanas soak up the sun before taking
a dip
Domed tortoise from Darwin volcano on
Isabela (left) and saddleback from Pinzdn (right)
DNA evidence suggests giant tortoises arrived
on either San Cristdbal orEspafiola and spread
stepwise to the other Galapagos islands
US frigate Essex
David Porter, the swashbuckling captain of the
Essex
A statue of Brighty, the Grand Canyon donkey,
receiving a pat from National Park
Superintendent Howard Strickland
Logo of the UK-based Galapagos
Conservation Trust
European starlings, introduced to the US by
literary aspirant Eugene Schieffelin
Tourists in Puerto Ayora

56
57
61

64
65
66

75
77
80
84

Figure 6.1
Figure 6.2

The much sought-after Galapagos sea cucumber 92
The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest member of the
dog family in the world
104

Figure 7.1

The Galapagos Islands, as discovered and
described by Captain Cowley in 1684
Botanist Rob Gradstein poses with the intact
shell of a Pinta tortoise on 9 July 1976
The number of grizzly bears in an area can be
estimated by counting faeces
Peter Pritchard and the wardens who scoured
Pinta for tortoise life in October 2003
Peter Pritchard on the southern tip of Pinta
with tortoise bones found on the expedition

Figure 7.2
Figure 7.3
Figure 7.4
Figure 7.5

114
118
122
125
126

x List of Figures

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.2
Figure 8.3

Figure 9.1
Figure 9.2

Colin McCarthy, curator of reptiles at
London's Natural History Museum, with the
type specimens of the Pinta tortoise
One of the Abingdon tortoises collected
by Cookson
The one-eyed Pinta female collected by Rollo
Beck in July 1901
Captive-bred tortoises are reintroduced
to Espanola
The northern elephant seal made it through a
tight population bottleneck

Sperm cryopreservation helped save the
black-footed ferret
Figure 10.2 A slice through several sperm in the storage
gland of a female box turtle Terrapene carolina
Figure 10.3 Ultrasound image of a Galapagos tortoise
egg just before ovulation

131
133
138

149
154

Figure 10.1

Figure
Figure
Figure
Figure

11.1
11.2
11.3
11.4

Ombretta, the mouflon clone
Cloning, in six easy steps
Perry's chick inspects its surrogate eggshell
Idaho Gem, the mule clone

166
167
172
183
184
185
188

Acknow kdgements

This project came about because of Fausto Arellano, my naturalist guide in the GalBpagos; his wit and flair inspired me to
explore Lonesome George's wonderful story further. Peter
Aldhous and Nicola Jones pulled together my early foray into
George's world for a feature published in Nature in June 2003.
The book was an obvious next step. Thanks to my editor at
Macmillan Science Sara Abdulla for listening to my verbal
pitch, encouraging me to put together a proposal, taking it on
and guiding me from start to finish. It's been super fun.
Everyone I've interviewed for the book, without exception,
has been immensely cooperative. I appreciate the time and
thought they gave in answering my questions.
Lengthy discussions and correspondence with Linda Cayot
and Peter Pritchard enriched almost every angle of the book.
In addition to their opinions and recollections, several others
helped me piece together George's narrative: Thomas Fritts,
Manuel Cruz, Ole Hamann, Ole Seberg, Peter Kramer, Sveva
Grigioni, Gisela von Hegel, DerekGreen, Rob Gradstein, Joe
Flanagan, Olav Oftedal, Eliott Jacobson, Howard Snell,
Roslyn Cameron and Victor Carri6n. I benefitted hugely from
conversations with historians of science Edward J. Larson,
Frank Sulloway, Janet Browne, John Woram, Jordan
Goodman, Paul White, Joy Harvey, John van Wyhe, Kristin
Johnson and John Wills. Tracking details of zoo and museum
specimens was down to help from Colin McCarthy,Douglas
Russell, George Zug, Steve Johnson, Geoffrey Swinney and
Petr VelenskiT The tales of rediscovery of extinct species are
ix

xii Acknowledgements

courtesy of interviews with Peter Zahler, Robert Dowler,
Justin Gerlach and Pamela Rasmussen. Thanks to the Yale
geneticists Adalgisa Caccone, Jeffrey Powell and Michael
Russello, to ancient DNA experts Alan Cooper, Svante Paabo
and Tom Gilbert and to Michel Milinkovitch, David Kizirian
and Edward Louis, all of whom gave life to the stories hidden
in DNA. Nigel Leader-Williams and Matt Walpole talked to
me about flagship species. Andrew Balmford, Claudio SilleroZubiri, Paul Ferraro, Michael LeMaster, Scott Keogh, Kim
Parsons, Margarida Fernandes, Samuel Wasser, Tony Juniper,
Richard Lewis and Farah Ishtiaq let me pick their brains over
conservation beyond the GalBpagos. I learned about the ins
and outs of the sea cucumber crisis from Chantal Blanton, Jim
Pinson, Ver6nica Toral-Granda, Chantal Conand and
Graham Edgar. I got up to date about current conservation
initiatives in the islands from Karl Campbell, Josh Donlan,
Donna Harris, Johannah Barry and Graham Watkins. My
appreciation of the difficulties in collecting semen from
elephants comes from a conversation with Thomas Hildebrant; an understanding of electroejaculating reptiles from a
chat with Carrol Platz Jr; an introduction to reptilian sperm
storage from Daniel Gist; and comprehension of the complexities of assisted reproductive technologies from Bill Holt,
Valentine Lance, Tim Birkhead and Beatrix Schramm. The
following helped me explore the futuristic worlds of chimeras
and cloning: Ian Wilmut, Pasqualino Loi, Grazyna Ptak,
Salvatore Naitana, James Petitte, Oliver Ryder, Gordon
Woods and Don Jacklin. The thoughts of John Whitfield,
William White, Kirsten Berry, Larry Agenbroad, Peter
Tallack, Tom Tyler, Matthew James, Greg Moss, Anthony and
Setitia Simmonds, Roy Easson, Mike Spurgin, Bob Langton
and Don Freeman also fed into the book.
Polly Tucker and the staff of the library at the Natural
History Museum were tremendously helpful in allowing access
to the Rothschild Collection and many other fascinating

Acknowledgements xiii

sources; Kate Jarvis dredgedup logbooks from the National
Maritime Museum; and it's been a pleasure working with all
those at the Galapagos Conservation Trust, especially Leonor
Stjepic, Abigail Rowley and Catherine Armstrong. I've also
valued discussions with trustee Nigel Sitwell and vicepresidents Julian Fitter, Sarah Darwin and Godfrey Merlen.
I'd like to thank everyone who has provided illustrations.
Detailed credits are listed at the back. In particular, I'm
indebted to John Woram for letting me reproduce maps from
his enchanting website (www.galapagos.to) from Cowley's visit,
the Beagle voyage and the sketch of the Abingdon tortoise that
appears in the 11th edition of Darwin's Journal of Researches.
Many others have helped me through this adventure,
especially my family John, Stella, Mary, Tom, Ana, Pablo and
Alvaro Nicholls, Mark Ruddy, Hugh and Sheila Stirling,
James and Hazel Mason and friends Zaid Al-Zaidy, Kate
Moorcroft, Matthew and Marisa Lea, Pia Sarma, Rufus
Grantham, Jimmy Carr, Melvin Carvalho, Laura Cook,
Jonathan Duffy, Arthur Wadsworth, Julian Ogilvie, Matthew
Thorne, Daniel Price, Gina Fullerlove, Caroline Tullis, Mark
Wilson, Tommaso Pizzari, Martin Fowlie, Phil Mitchell, Ben
Keatinge, James Samson, Bea Perks, Helen Dell, Ruth Jordan,
Laura Spinney, Pete Moore, Catriona MacCallum, Colin
Tudge, Darren Sharpe, Max Benitz and the Celeriac XI.
Linda Cayot, Graham Watkins, John van Wyhe, Peter
Pritchard, Pia Sarma, Tim Birkhead, Mark Wilson and Tom
Nicholls deserve an additional mention for their valuable
feedback on earlier versions of the book.
My son Harry arrived in the midst of this project and has
been a limitless source of delightful distraction throughout. I
wouldn't have done this without him or my wife Charlotte,
who has supported me intellectually and emotionally every
slow step of the way. Thank you.
HENRYNICHOLLS

Figure l?1 The GalApagos archipelago

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