Lonesome George, pictured above, was the last of the Galápagos tortoises of Pinta Island. When he died in 2012, at more than 100 years old, his species passed into extinction. But now scientists have discovered close relatives of Lonesome George living on a nearby island, and they hope to resurrect his species.
More than a hundred years ago, eight species of Galápagos tortoises lived on different Galápagos Islands off the northwest coast of South America. Each helped keep the ecosystem on their island healthy, in part by dispersing—eating and pooping—seeds. But at least three species have gone extinct, including the tortoises of Pinta Island (Lonesome George's species), Floreana Island, and Santa Fe Island.
In the 16th century, more than 250,000 tortoises roamed the Galápagos Islands, but populations plummeted to just a few thousand by 1970. In the 19th century pirates, sailors, and whalers plundered the islands for food. Seafarers saw tortoises as ideal food for long journeys, because the animals could be kept alive in a ship's hold without food or water for more than a year.
The story of the extinct tortoises has taken a hopeful turn. Just three years after Lonesome George's death, scientists have discovered close relatives of his living on nearby Isabela Island. Apparently, sailors had dumped excess Pinta tortoises off Isabela's shore. Some of the tortoises floated to shore and took up residence. Scientists also found relatives of the extinct Floreana tortoises living on Isabela Island. With careful breeding, scientists hope to bring both the Pinta and Floreana tortoises back from extinction and reintroduce them to their islands, helping to restore the islands' ecosystems.
Want to learn more about the amazing Galápagos tortoises? Check out my book, Galápagos Tortoises: Long-lived Giant Reptiles from Lerner, part of a series on animal traits for kids in grades 2 through 4. Be sure to check out the teaching guide too!
I was disturbed to read this article by Carl Zimmer about a massive die-off of endangered saiga antelopes, creatures with weird, fleshy noses that I wrote about in The Ultimate Adventure Atlas of Earth. According to scientists, over 200,000 of the antelopes died last spring—that's over half of the remaining population in a single month.
What caused the die-off? Scientists think climate change may have weakened the antelopes' immune systems, transforming a normally harmless bacteria into a killer. The scenario is deeply alarming. "It’s not going to be something the species can survive,” said Dr. Richard A. Kock, of the Royal Veterinary College in London, who was quoted in the article. “If there are weather triggers that are broad enough, you could actually have extinction in one year.”
School Library Journal declared "students can put their critical thinking skills to the test" with Comparing Animal Traits: Reptiles. "Well-designed and accessible… these selections are solid contenders in a saturated field."
My editors and I had fun selecting reptiles for this series. You'll find everything from king cobras to komodo dragons, tuataras to sea turtles, and so much more. What's you're favorite scaly-skinned creature?
I had a blast writing this action-packed world atlas with my friend and co-author Sally Isaacs. We explored some of the world's coolest, darkest, deepest, most amazing places—as well as the planet's weirdest plants and animals. Come along for the fun. What's your favorite extreme feature on earth?
I write books for children and young adults. I write picture books, early readers, and nonfiction, and most of my books are about science and nature. My writing draws on my love of nature and more than a decade of experience as a working scientist. This website should help you learn more about me and my books. The picture above was taken beside Spring Creek, a stream near my home in Pennsylvania.