Lonesome George, the world's last Pinta Island giant tortoise, has passed away. According to AFP, George's caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the creature's body stretched out near its watering hole. As of this writing, the cause of death is unknown; scientists intend to keep his body in cold storage until his remains can be properly studied. The Galapagos National Park in Ecuador said in a statement that they believe George was over 100 years old.
The giant tortoise was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972. At the time, scientists believed that these creatures were already extinct. Over the years, officials at the park had attempted to breed Lonesome George in order to keep his species, Geochelone nigra abingdoni, from dying out. Unfortunately, George wasn't overly interested in the preservation of his kind, as all of his scheduled trysts with other tortoises yielded no results.
"Lonesome George's legacy will be an increased effort in both research and management to restore his island of Pinta and all of the other giant tortoise populations of Galapagos," the park said in a statement. In order to honor Lonesome George and his legacy, scientists intend to gather for a workshop in July to discuss the repopulation of the species in the islands.
Since the region became a hotspot for vacationers and tourists, the tortoise population has decreased dramatically. Lonesome George himself was often a popular spot for visitors; thousands of people stopped by the tortoise's pen every year in an attempt to get a look at an exceptionally rare species.
"The plight of Lonesome George provided a catalyst for an extraordinary effort by the government of Ecuador to restore not only tortoise populations throughout the archipelago but also improve the status of other endangered and threatened species," the park explained.
Presently, there are only about 20,000 tortoises left in the Galapagos.