Lonesome George is believed to be the last of his subspecies, but he hardly had time for loneliness: The tortoise had constant company from journalists, scientists, and potential mates.
Meeting the giant tortoise Lonesome George on the Galapagos Islands ranks as one of Melanie Stetson Freeman's top experiences as a longtime staff photographer for the Christian Science Monitor. “It's so cool to see the last of something,” she says. “It is so sad that he is gone.”
The only remaining Pinta Island giant tortoise – believed to be the last of his species – Lonesome George died on Sunday. No one knew his exact age, but he was believed to be about 100 years old.
Melanie and I went to the Galapagos Islands to do a cover story for one of the first editions of our new magazine back in 2009. It was a look at an epic quest to reconstruct nature.
It was not Mel's first trip to Ecuador's archipelago, among the most biologically unique places on the planet and best known for inspiring Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. She went 20 years prior, to look at whether tourism was hurting or helping the Galapagos Islands.
“The first time I went there, you weren't allowed to see Lonesome George, because he was so unusual, they were really taking care to protect him,” she says.
So when we returned, and Melanie had full access to the tortoise in the enclosure where he was closely monitored, she was thrilled. Melanie, more than anyone I've ever met, loves wildlife, appreciating every sound and movement a creature makes. She spent hours with Lonesome George as I tried to track down government officials and conservationists for interviews.