He is probably the last of his kind - now he is finally supposed to become a father: Lonesome George, the famous Galapagos giant turtle, gets two new roommates in the enclosure. This is not the first breeding attempt, for many years George did not want to.
george has discovered slowness for himself. interested, he sticks his wrinkled neck up in the air and looks to the other side of the little water pond where the commotion is. for a moment it seems that george wants to rush over there and see what's going on. then he takes the first step. slowly. very slowly. as if george wanted to say, "time doesn't matter to me."
It is to be assumed that George does not know how badly his species is in reality: The giant tortoise, which has been living at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Island Santa Cruz since the seventies, could be the very last known specimen of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, which is why the animal keepers call him "Lonesome George".
But George is not to die alone. The giant tortoise is finally to become a father. So far, the efforts of the National Park have not been crowned with success - now the researchers at the station are starting a new experiment: George will be given company from two related females, which will encourage him to reproduce, according to the management of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Thursday.
Weeks of hoping for the brood
But nobody can say whether it will work out with the offspring this time. For more than three decades, biologists have been trying to get the reptile to reproduce. George has already had to share the enclosure with a giant turtle lady twice. 2008 and 2009 saw the first glimmers of hope when the keepers discovered eggs laid by the females, which were then hatched in an incubator.
For over a hundred days, the biologists hoped that small giant turtles would hatch out of them, but then it turned out that the eggs did not carry viable offspring.
New love, new happiness? George's former roommates were each specimens of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra becki, and the researchers are now hoping that another subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise, Chelonoidis nigra hoodensis, might be the better choice.
The two giant tortoise females have now arrived on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. Before that, they lived a few kilometres further on the island of Española. According to the latest findings of the researchers, this subspecies is genetically more closely related to Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni. The females could therefore be "much more compatible" and provided a "greater probability of viable offspring", according to a statement by the national park.
No desire for caresses
However, it may be several years before the first successes can be reported: At first, George had shown no signs of reproductive behaviour for many years - and in some cases even behaved very aggressively towards his companions. The researchers puzzled over the why: Does George simply not know how to deal with women? Is he possibly even gay? It is said that the giant reptile itself reacted quite unmoved to a special "petting practice" that brings other turtles to orgasm in a very short time.
the turnaround came only a few years ago: suddenly george did what male animals often do and heaved himself onto the tank of one of his playmates. however, this slow development of the behaviour is not necessarily surprising. after all, george belongs to the methuselah animals and can take a lot of time for the different stages of life: at least 60 years old, but maybe 90. nobody knows for sure. and if he doesn't get poisoned, run over by a car or get seriously ill, he will still be eating fresh leaves in 80 years.
Many turtles stubbornly refuse to age, almost as if they had the ability to stop the ticking of their internal clock. It is said that the Seychelles giant tortoise male Adwaitya, the only one, as they called him, lived a good 250 years before he died of infection in March 2006 at Calcutta Zoo.
British seafarers had brought Adwaitya to colonial India. Since 1875 he had been in the zoo, according to the documents. At that time Queen Victoria ruled over the Empire, Bavaria's King Ludwig II had just had Linderhof Palace built. And a person had a life expectancy of not even 40 years.
But George is now in his "best age" and he will be for some time to come. Even if the offspring are not successful, the researchers can still hope for some years. If the breeding is successful one day, this could be the salvation for Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni. Although the offspring are not pure-bred specimens at first, the researchers hope that they will try to breed pure-bred descendants of Lone George through different lines.
However, it takes about four generations to have nearly pure-bred animals of one species again, so in giant turtle time scales this could take a little while.