Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & Chocolate

Lonesome George: Gone to Tortoise Heaven

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We had a brief glimpse at the tortoise life on the Galapagos Islands while exploring the Charles Darwin Research Station on our first day in Puerto Ayora. But what I failed to mention is that, neurotic, food-guarding tortoises aside, we also had the chance to meet the most famous dude of his species: Lonesome George.

Lonesome George | Camels & ChocolateAnd by “meet,” I mean we got a good look at his rear end. As his name implies, George wasn’t exactly the social type. He preferred to stay hidden behind a tree, and from what others have told me who visited long before, this has always been the case.

George was the unofficial paragon of the Galapagos Islands, thought to be around 100 years old and was the last remaining tortoise of the Pinta Island species that date back more than 10 million years. He was oft-described as “an eternal bachelor,” more or less because he wouldn’t take to any female tortoises if you get my drift. Scientists tried many (extreme) methods to get him to breed and keep his species alive and…nothing.

I say “was,” because as I’m sure you’ve heard, Lonesome George is no more. (*tear*)

On June 24, he went to a better place, a place no doubt where he could mingle with all the male tortoises he wanted and not be pressured into taking a wife (or two). A few weeks ago, it popped up on my news alert that George had reached his end. RIP “little” guy.

But fear not, there’s a new tortoise on the turf, and apparently, this frisky guy is set on making the ladies happy. He answers to Diego and is described as “prolific, bossy and macho.” Basically, all the things George wasn’t! As the Associated Press says: “Galapagos’ new star tortoise does what Lonesome George didn’t: Helps save his species.”

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateI’ll let you interpret that as you will.

(Note: this is not an actual picture of Diego above, but rather some random local we met in the wild. However, he looks like a Diego, wouldn’t you say? And is definitely “macho” and “bossy.” He was snacking on the passionfruit that grows in the wild, which is a favorite indulgence of the tortoise population.)

Galapagos Islands tortoises | Camels & ChocolateEven though George wasn’t feeling social, we saw our share of tortoises the following day—some we sought out, others found us by way of roadblock.

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateWe visited a tortoise farm in the Highlands on Santa Cruz Island, where we literally got to get up close and personal with the 500-pound creatures. The tortoises roam at leisure in their natural habitats, and visitors can walk among them via guided tour. It was pretty fascinating if I do say so myself and felt rather otherworldly at times.

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateSometimes the encounters were a wee bit close for comfort as my good friend Cindy quickly found out.

A male tortoise took an interest in her—he was Lonesome George’s polar opposite, it seems—and even though she tried to tell him she already was married to a lovely man back in Colorado Springs, he wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. Typical man.

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateGalapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateGalapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & Chocolate“Cindy, you will be mine,” his menacing, prehistoric tortoise face said with conviction. I can’t say I blame him; Cindy has a certain charm about her that puts everyone she meets under a spell! Though I’m not quite sure how she’d get him back through customs; I’m pretty certain they don’t make seats on the plain that accommodate quarter-ton amphibians.

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateOne of the participants even got it on video. How funny is this?

Not all, however, were as aggressive as Cindy’s friend. In fact, the majority were downright docile as Nicole discovered once she went to get her “terrible towel” shot.

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateGalapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & ChocolateGalapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & Chocolate(Nicole, a fellow Southern gal who hails from Kentucky, is an interpreter for the deaf, and yes, this is the sign for “tortoise.”)

All in all, our tortoise socializing was that sort of surreal and iconic Galapagos experience you go to the islands to have and only further enhanced by one awesome group of Enrichment Voyages travel companions!

Galapagos Islands tortoise | Camels & Chocolate

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COMMENTS
  • July 17, 2012

    I leave for the Galapagos in two weeks and was excited to read this post. Any tips about traveling to the Galapagos?

    • July 17, 2012

      Are you going by boat or doing a land-based tour? Obviously, boat is the preferable method to travel around there as you see so much more than way, but if you are based on Santa Cruz Island as we were, I would highly suggest hiring a water taxi driver at the dock in Puerto Ayora to take you around the coastline. We paid about $5 each for two hours and saw SO many cool things–from schools of sleeping hammerheads to blue-footed boobies to thousands of sleeping iguanas.

      Have so much fun!!!

      • July 18, 2012

        We are going on a boat and have a few days before the trip that hopefully we can use for Scuba diving. Do you have suggestions on hotels in Puerto Ayora for the few days prior to our cruise?

        • July 18, 2012

          I guess it depends on your budget. The one we stayed in was very basic, but it was clean and fine and central–plus, it had triple rooms with three twin beds if there are three of you. It was called the Estrella del Mar. The rest of our group stayed in the Fernandina or the Hotel Lobo de Mar–I didn’t visit either one personally, but no one had any complaints.

          Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge appears to be the nicest one in the area, and there are a couple others with decent Trip Advisor reviews in the $100s range.

  • July 17, 2012

    I love that he appears in the street art. That being said, those turtles would scare the shit out of me! It’s their faces; even in the pictures I’m pretty sure they’re planning how to rip my face off.

    • July 17, 2012

      They move sooooo slooooowly that I guarantee you wouldn’t be so scared of them IRL. But yes, their faces are freaky!

  • July 17, 2012
    SVV

    RIP George

    • July 18, 2012

      A little Viagra and some determination could have saved an entire species. Sigh.

  • July 17, 2012

    I’m so sad he passed away!!! 🙁 What an extraordinary experience!

  • July 17, 2012

    So incredible! I have been trying to figure out a way to do a SAS Enrichment Voyage… I am a first year teacher that needs to build up some major vacation time! I just think about all of the amazing experiences that I would be able to bring into my classroom… sigh!

    • July 17, 2012

      Enrichment Voyages are usually in between school terms (December or May), but the timing can overlap a bit, especially if you’re teaching elementary/middle/high school (versus college). The one in Europe next May is in two-week blocks, but I’m going to assume you’re not on summer vacation by that point? They might extend it into June, though, in which case you should look into it. SO FUN.

      • July 17, 2012

        Yeah, I teach elementary. We don’t get out until the end of May! Booo! I haven’t given up hope, though 🙂

  • July 18, 2012

    Poor George … I keep envisioning some poor 100 year old man refusing to take a little blue pill. Maybe he’d seen all the commercials and those side effects were not something he was willing to risk 😉

    Seeing these photographs does make me see tortoises in a whole new way. They really truly do look prehistoric. And massive. They look intimidating so I’m taking your word for it that they’re slow …

    • July 18, 2012

      HA! He would have been an excellent spokesperson for Viagra.

      I bet Mayhem would love her some tortoises. They would probably be way more scared of her than she would be of them 😉

  • July 18, 2012

    They REALLY are prehistoric looking, I was surprised by that when I got there!

    And I’m sad, I didn’t get to see Lonesome George, he died while I was on my boat ride, the day before we went to the Charles Darwin station!

    Ps. I can’t believe we visited so close in time yet our paths didn’t cross. We need to work on this.

    • July 18, 2012

      I KNOW. And why aren’t you stopping through Nashville now that you’re just an hour-and-a-half flight from me? 😉

      So sad for your Lonesome George luck! Though truth be told, he was a bit dull!

  • July 18, 2012

    Um… I did not know about Lonesome George’s passing. I am now in mourning.

    A lovely tribute, by the way.

  • July 18, 2012

    So sad about George!

    Diego has some big shoes to fill… Love the photos Kristin. 🙂

  • July 23, 2012

    I’ve never thought a turtle or tortoise could be called macho… hehe! too funny. (and sad about George!)

    • July 27, 2012

      I guess he can be macho if he’s exercising his, er, man card 😉

  • July 26, 2012

    It’s crazy to see one of those guys next to a person and realize how absolutely massive they are. They’re such odd and amazing creatures.

    • July 27, 2012

      500 pounds! That’s like four of us!

  • December 5, 2016

    On our list!! I had no idea that you would see SOO many! We love animal encounters though, boy, do you have to be careful you are getting into one that is safe and secure for animals! That can be tricky as you read all the time about terrible conditions for animals.

    Before swimming with the dolphins in Hawaii (very cool by the way) I did a lot of research about how to find a safe animal experience and by safe I mean good for the animals!! They can be found and interacting with wildlife is good for the soul and the planet because it helps everyone feel more connected.

    You friend, Cindy, certainly has some……animal magnetism. LOL! Groan. 😉

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