I was at the beach with Reyna, Roberto, and their kids at Tortuga Bay on Sunday when we heard from an acquaintance that El Solitario Jorge had passed away (the news passed at a speed throughout the Galapagos Islands similar to that reserved for elder dignitaries elsewhere in the world). My first feeling was surprise, because I had always heard how old giant tortoises could live and I knew how much veterinary care the animals at the Charles Darwin Research Station received. My second and third feelings were sadness, followed by some unexplained relief (was it a queasy feeling of my good fortune for just having seen George for a second time on Friday afternoon, while walking through the tortoise breeding area? Relief provided by the mystical thought that maybe he will find his soul mate in the next dimension? Something else? I do not know).
We were all a bit stunned by the news, wondering what the implications were for the dozens of organizations and companies that used George as “celebrity” endorser for the Galápagos and biodiversity conservation: almost every t-shirt you see on Charles Darwin Road in Puerto Ayora has Lonesome George imprinted on it, either in artwork or the logos for the National Park, the Galapagos Conservancy, and many other groups. This single tortoise was placed alone on billions of pieces of merchandise supporting (or purporting to) conservation, and his loss brings to mind what the WWF would face should the last panda pass: the extinction of the species might serve as an even more compelling, albeit less directly or personally moving, icon for protection of endangered species.
In lighter news: this week, from morning till evening, I’ll be attending and learning from a workshop titled “Development of a Participatory Environmental Monitoring Program for Galapagos,” which I think will be incredibly useful and educational for my plans with citizen science at Tomás de Berlanga!