The death of Lonesome George

A team of vets, technicians and scientists has just carried out an autopsy on Lonesome George’s cold corpse. The early signs, according to a press release just issued by the Galapagos National Park, are that he suffered a cardiac arrest some time on Sunday morning. His posture suggests he was walking. I am guessing that the postmortem will not tell us much more about the cause of death. In all of the thousands of news stories that have covered Lonesome George’s passing, including in a short obituary I wrote for the Nature blog, you’ll read that George was thought to

The dance of the three-footed rhino

The rhinoceros stands on three legs. Her fourth – the front left – is shorter than the rest by an unlucky 13 cm and ends in a constricted knot of skin and bone. In a perfectly executed maneuver that incongruously brings a ballerina to mind, she shuffles her three good feet, as if on tip-toe, to a single point beneath her hefty frame. Her damaged limb begins to oscillate, looking more like a trunk as it swings backwards then forwards. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, she throws it upwards and her front limbs are cycling in the air. For a slow-motion instant,

Extinct Galapagos tortoise has just been hiding

A species of Galapagos tortoise – thought to be extinct for over 150 years – may, in fact, be alive and well. This finding – made by geneticists at Yale University– is particularly surprising when you consider that this reptile is of giant proportions, measuring more than a metre from the front to the back of its shell and weighing more than 200 kg. How could such a behemoth have gone unnoticed for so long? The answer, it turns out, is simple. They’ve been hiding. When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Island of Floreana in 1835, he found no sign

A black and white Christmas

“The pandas are coming!” announced Edinburgh Zoo’s press office on Monday morning. The reason, I discovered, was not to proclaim the transfer of seminal fluid from male to female panda (cause for celebration as that might be), but because the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) finally has a date set for the long-awaited arrival of a pair of giant pandas. When the FedEx Panda Express touches down in Edinburgh on Sunday, Tian-Tian and Yang-Guang will be the first giant pandas to set foot in Britain for 17 years. I’ve thought a lot – probably too much – about giant

WWF at 50

If you ever get the chance to sift through Max Nicholson’s archive (which, I’ll grant you, seems a little unlikely), it’s something quite astounding. Throughout his long life, which spanned pretty much the entire 20th century, ornithologist, author and administrator Nicholson had a hand in organising or leading dozens of environmental initiatives and organizations, several of which sit right up there at the forefront of the modern conservation movement. When it came to organisation and leadership, Nicholson was quite simply second to none: he was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Bird Census in 1927 (which provided the foundation for