Lonesome George, the late reptile prince of the Galapagos Islands, may be dead, but scientists now say he may not be the last giant tortoise of his species after all.
Researchers say they may be able to resurrect the Pinta Island subspecies by launching a cross-breeding program with 17 other tortoises found to contain genetic material similar to that of Lonesome George, who died June 24 at the Pacific Ocean archipelago off Ecuador’s coast after repeated failed efforts to reproduce.
Edwin Naula, director of the Galapagos National Park, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the probability is high it can be accomplished.
“It would be the first time that a species was recovered after having been declared extinct,” Naula said.
But it won’t happen overnight.
“This is going to take about 100 to 150 years,” Naula added.
Scientists took DNA samples from 1,600 tortoises on Wolf volcano, and found the Pinta variety in 17, though their overall genetic makeup varied.
Through cross-breeding, “100 percent pure species” can be achieved, said Naula, a biologist.
He said the 17 tortoises were being transferred from Isabela island, where the volcano is located, to the park’s breeding center at Santa Cruz, the main island on the archipelago whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin’s work on evolution. The results are to be published in the journal Biological Conservation, the park said.
The study on Wolf volcano was conducted by Yale University and the Galapagos park with financial help from the Galapagos Conservancy.