Lonesome George the giant tortoise, the last individual of his species, has returned to Galapagos after an absence of almost five years. Following his unexpected death in 2012, the Galapagos National Park agreed to send him to a top-end taxidermist in New York. After painstaking treatment, George went on show at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014. He is now back in Galapagos, the centerpiece of a new exhibition aimed at visitors to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center on Santa Cruz.
By the time I met Lonesome George during my first visit to Galapagos in 2003, he had become the face of extinction. I read the information panel around his enclosure: “Whatever happens to this animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things is in human hands.” I was not, however, overly impressed with this shy, retiring reptile and had no idea it was to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Back at home in the UK, George’s influence on me started to grow. At the start of a career as a science journalist, I wrote about him, first a feature in Nature, then a popular science book called Lonesome George, until hardly a month would pass without me being called to comment on some aspect of his life. I should have become accustomed to George’s capacity to generate news, but every time he impressed me. There is no individual – animal or human – that could communicate the conservation message quite like George.
I love it that he’s still up to his old tricks, even in death. See also my Guardian blog Animal Magic.