Saturday, May 24, 2008

$10,000 Reward for World’s Rarest Animal

The Pinta Island tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni), one of the few species of Giant Galapagos tortoises, is indisputably the rarest animal in the world - because there is only one left alive.

Ravaged by whalers, buccaneers and finally feral animals, the wretched Pinta Island Tortoise was thought extinct until 1971, when a lone, forlorn example was located by rangers. Christened “Lonesome George” by his discoverers, he was evacuated to the sanctuary of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) on the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz.

For over thirty years, a search has been under way for a female Pinta tortoise. Believing one may still exist in captivity somewhere, the CDRS even posted a US$10,000 reward. Additionally, wardens still scour the dense vegetation of Pinta Island in the hope of locating any fugitive females.

Named after the famous British naturalist, Charles Darwin (1809-82) who spent five weeks on the islands in 1835, the research station runs a successful captive breeding program the has restored many of the previously threatened populations. But not the Pinto Island variety as “Lonesome George” will not mate with any of the “foreign” species. The CDRS also welcomes visitors and “Lonesome George” is the highlight of many tours.

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