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Lonesome George - ????-2012

They said he was picky
But was it too much to ask,
to mate with one's own species?

Lonesome George - ????-2012

Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, was found dead on Sunday, June 24, 2012, officials at the Galapagos National Park announced. Lonesome George was believed to be the last living member of the Pinta island subspecies and had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador´s coast whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin´s ideas on evolution. (AP Photo/ Galapagos National Park)<br />
Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, was found dead on Sunday, June 24, 2012, officials at the Galapagos National Park announced. Lonesome George was believed to be the last living member of the Pinta island subspecies and had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador's coast whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution. (AP Photo/ Galapagos National Park)

They said he was picky
But was it so much to ask,
to mate with one’s own species?

This week marked the death of an individual and the final extinction of a species, for Lonesome George was the last of his kind. His age is estimated to be over 100. He had many years to live out his solitary confinement.

He lived in the Galapagos, off the coast of South America - islands where Charles Darwin made some of his most important observations. Animals are protected there now, but for years humans killed tortoises for food.

In the 1990s, conservationists tried to coax George to mate with related tortoises – optimistically labeled as sub-species of his own. But evolution had driven these populations too far apart. We humans can label them as mere sub-species, but nature is the final arbiter.

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I still find it odd that creationists want to draw magical boxes around species, allowing evolution to make adjustments within species, but barring one species from branching into two. And yet, here, the populations from which George’s would-be mates came had diverged far enough from George that they could not produce offspring together. A line was crossed. 

And so the murder of George’s species finally reached its completion. To add to the somber news, the AP reported today on a rise in murders of environmental activists, such as Chut Wutty, who was gunned down by police for trying to stop illegal logging in Cambodia. The Associated Press reported that 700 environmental activists have been murdered in the last decade:

“Targeted assassinations, disappearances followed by confirmed deaths, deaths in custody and during clashes with security forces are being reported. The killers are often soldiers, police or private security guards acting on behalf of businesses or governments. Credible investigations are rare; convictions more so.

"It's so easy to get someone killed in some of these countries. Decapitate the leader of the movement and then buy off everyone else — that's standard operating procedure," says Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch.

The countries where environmental killings are most common share similarities: a powerful few, with strong links to officialdom, and many poor and disenfranchised dependent on land or forests for livelihoods, coupled with strong activist movements which are more likely to report the violence.”

Read more about Lonesome George here.
Read about Chut Wutty here.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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