The one-hundred-year old historic specimen of the now virtually extinct Abingdon Island tortoise is irreplaceable and correspondingly valuable on two counts.
This specimen was the first Abingdon Island tortoise to be kept in a European zoo. It died in 1914 at London Zoo and was acquired by the NHM Vienna already mounted.
Galapagos giant tortoises live exclusively on the Galapagos Islands, a remote group of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. A total of about fifteen subspecies developed on the various islands, differing from each other in the size and shape of their shell. Five of them have become extinct in the last two hundred years.
Giant tortoises used to exist on the Galapagos Islands in amazingly large numbers. One could supposedly step from shell to shell without ever touching the ground. In the 19th century, seal hunters and whalers caught thousands of the slow animals, took them as “living provisions” on their ships or traded with their meat and fat. In the space of just 30 years, more than 200,000 Galapagos tortoises were killed. Today they are strictly protected. Visitors may only visit the islands in small guided groups. However, for the Abingdon Island tortoise, these measures have come too late.
The last individual of this subspecies died in June 2012. Lonesome George was found in 1971 on Pinta Island and brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.George was about 80 years old.
Giant tortoises can live to over 170 years old and can even reproduce when they are very old. Since dried tortoise dung was found in 1981 on Pinta, people have been hoping to find a fellow member of the species for Lonesome George – thus far in vain.