When the giant tortoise known as Lonesome George died last summer (in June 2012), people thought he was the last of his kind.
Lonesome George lived on Pinta Island, one of a group of islands called the Galapagos, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America.
He belonged to a species called Chelonoidis abingdoni, which was native to that island and not found anywhere else in the world. When he died, scientists believed the species became extinct.
Now a group of researchers has found giant tortoises, who may be related to Lonesome George, living on another Galapagos island.
These scientists studied the DNA of a group of giant tortoises living on Isabella Island, about 60 kilometres away from Lonesome George’s home. (DNA is information stored in the cells of a plant or animal that determines the characteristics of that organism.)
They found 17 tortoises that had some DNA from the same Pinta Island species as Lonesome George. These tortoises also had DNA from a different species, which means they had ancestors from both species.
The scientists hope that some purebred members of the Pinta Island species might also be living on Isabella Island.
In the 1800s, sailors passing by the Galapagos Islands sometimes captured giant tortoises and kept them on their ships for food. If they had more than they needed, they often dumped the extra tortoises back into the ocean in a place called Banks Bay, near Isabella Island.
The scientists think that some members of Lonesome George’s species may have been left there. They plan to go back in the spring to look for them.
National Geographic Education site about Lonesome George
Galapagos National Park website
By Kathleen Tilly
The article explains that when scientists thought that Lonesome George died, they “believed the species became extinct.”
What is a species? What happens when a species becomes extinct? Why is extinction so serious?
Reading Prompt: Responding to and Evaluating Text
Read the story carefully and explain what the scientists think they may have discovered. How will they know if they found relatives of Lonesome George? Why is this discovery important?
Make judgements and draw conclusions about the ideas and information in texts and cite stated or implied evidence from the text to support their views (OME, Reading: 1.8).
Evaluate the effectiveness of both simple and complex texts based on evidence from the texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).
Grammar Feature: Scientific Names
Plants and animals have scientific names. Lonesome George’s scientific species is called Chelonoidis abingdoni.
Why do you think plants and animals have both scientific names and common names? Does it add clarity or increase confusion?