Lonesome George is hot stuff in the turtle world
What’s your favourite famous animal? Mine is Lonesome George, a Pinta Island tortoise from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.
George is the last of his kind. You can’t get any rarer than that. He is now so famous that his mug has spawned T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs and an entire tourist industry. People drop by just to gawk at him, even though he really doesn’t look all that much different from his closest cousins. In fact, I bet if someone kidnapped Lonesome George without telling anyone and replaced him with another, closely related kind of tortoise, no one would know the difference. Then maybe George could catch a break and go off to a Greek Island for a little R and R. No one has yet thought of this, or attempted it in any case. As a result, Lonesome George seems to have a perpetual frown on his wrinkled face. Of course, that’s probably just what a Pinta Island tortoise is supposed to look like, but it’s still kind of evocative. Maybe someone could at least get him some shades, to go incognito in the tortoise compound, so to speak.
When you’re the last of your kind, you may be crowded by gawkers but you get service. Lonesome G. has a team of scientists trying to find him a suitable girlfriend. Before his 2009 conquest that led to eggs which didn't hatch, he hadn’t had sex in 35 years. How the scientists knew this, I don’t know if I want to find out. Maybe if those scientists tried to learn tortoise language, they would hear something like this: “Geez, get me a room, already! And stop staring at me when I’m getting lucky!” However, considering his options, I don’t necessarily blame the guy – I mean the turtle – for staying single. Given that he has no genetic counterparts, it’s a little like throwing an orangutan in a cage with a captive human and saying “hey, close enough”.
George could also be gay, as this does happen in the animal world. Since scientists are trying to breed him, they don't want him to just have a great sex life. There is no Pride Week for turtles, especially endangered ones. Therefore, his two attempts so far could be an appeasement strategy to keep the unlimited food supply and nice pen conditions.
Another problem is that no one knows his real age. George has been estimated to be anywhere from 60 to 200 years old. That’s a bit of a range. Guess he hides it well, if he’s an older male. However, it could also explain his lack of success with a recent hybrid female discovery. Looks like even tortoises need the occasional shot of Viagra. Scientists have, apparently, not yet tried this on George, even though they have gone so far as to get an “attractive” Swiss zoologist to, ahem, simulate reproductive receptiveness. I’m not sure how attractive George thought the zoologist was, but apparently that was the most action he got at the time, and the biggest response from him, in the three and a half decades he’s been in captivity. Maybe he was beginning to identify a little too much with humans; in which case it must have been tough to get him interested in what passes for a cute female in the tortoise world. (I can believe that, since I am convinced that too much viewing of Angelina Jolie pictures is narrowing my options with potential boyfriends). As a result, Lonesome G’s eventual female companions might have needed some pretty weird plastic surgery, at least for tortoises.
The things that humans have done to George to get him to have kids are incredibly invasive, though. If there were tortoise police, those scientists would be arrested, no question; maybe not double-quick, since it might take a while to get to the perps and cuff them, but still.
I’m just glad I’m not in that position. Of course, I never will be: I figure 7 billion is far enough from being endangered that the question will never arise. Too bad about the service, though.
© 2007-09, Dominique Millette