Researchers try to save last tortoise from extinction - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Researchers try to save last tortoise from extinction

(Source: CBS) (Source: CBS)

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (CBS) - Conservationists are trying to save an almost extinct giant tortoise species by encouraging the last known, remaining tortoise, "Lonesome George," to mate.

They introduced Lonesome George to two new "girlfriends" in hopes that the tortoises will produce offspring.

The 90-year-old, 198-pound, tortoise is reportedly in his sexual prime but has shown little interest in reproducing.

Herpetologist Diego Cisneros said the female tortoises chosen to mate with George had been selected by genetic testing.

"It is precisely because genes are a reflection so that no matter how you look, your history is recorded in your DNA, although it is not expressed, the genes continue to keep that story," Cisneros said. "And that allowed us to determine females that had better capacity and better chance of being a couple with George."

Scientists have been trying to get the last known Pinta Island tortoise to mate since 1993, when they introduced two female tortoises of a different subspecies into his pen.

In 2009, George stunned conservationists by mating for the first time in the 36 years since he has been in captivity, but the eggs laid by one of his companions turned out to be infertile.

If George fails to mate again, Cisneros said there are still other options to help him reproduce.

"There is a possibility, there are certain methodologies, hybridization, cloning, etc., but they are not so easy and we're talking about reptiles, the study of which are not as advanced as the studies of other animals," Cisneros said.

Tortoises were hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction, while their habitat on the Galapagos was eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland.

Galapagos tortoises were among the species Charles Darwin observed to formulate his theory of evolution in the 19th century.

Some 10,000 giant tortoises still live on the Galapagos Islands.

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