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.
And 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.”
(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.)
We 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.
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.
“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.
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.
(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!