Sadly the local hero of the Galapagos Islands, known fondly as ‘Lonesome George’, was found dead on Sunday, 24 June, 2012. George was a Galapagos tortoise and tragically it seems likely that his death marks the end of the Pinta Island subspecies.
It was hoped that he had many good breeding years in him yet, as he was thought to be a sprightly 100 and they often live close to 200 years, but there’s been no romance for George in a long time and attempts to produce George Juniors or little Georginas have all failed. George lived at the Charles Darwin Research Station, where he had become a symbol for the Galapagos Islands and pin-up boy for endangered species.
Fortunately the giant tortoises on other Galapagos islands have better withstood the invasion of their environments and as Lee Bethune discovered, seeing these ancient 300 kg (660 lb) creatures up close is all part of the extraordinary Galapagos experience…
“If nothing else draws you to the Galapagos surely the giant tortoises will. The Galapagos Islands were actually named by Spanish sailors after the saddleback of the strange tortoises and I can’t remember seeing anything more remarkable than these gigantic creatures in their natural environment. We found some feeding in grassland and others soaking in a muddy pond, all undisturbed by our presence and going about their business at an extremely leisurely pace.
The lovely blue, crystal clear, clean water enticed us to take a swim from the boat, yet often we were not swimming alone. My group was lucky to frolic with sea turtles and inquisitive sea lions who were great to watch play and gracefully move underwater. I happened to spot a white-tipped shark taking a nap under a rock shelf only meters below and was happy he/she was taking a rest while I quickly swam on. After we lost track of time snorkelling, the crew always greeted us back on deck with dry towels and a refreshing drink or heart-warming hot chocolate.
Early breakfasts were eaten aboard our boat before launching the zodiacs to visit our first island of the day. Loaded with cameras, hats and water bottles, we were personally introduced to the local wildlife by our own Galapagos naturalist. Spotting the amazing critters was rarely difficult, especially when we came across hundreds of marine iguanas lazing in groups to soak up the warmth of the day. The closely related land iguanas also loved sun-baking, but they were more prehistoric looking and very grand with all their frills and weathered skin.
Diverse landscapes, sighting pink flamingos in secluded lagoons, getting very close to penguins and taking time-out with a giant tortoise are only some of the great encounters you have in one day in the Galapagos; only to enjoy the thrill of getting up the next day to do it again!”
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* photo by Alicia Taggio