I’m in a bit of a mourning period. I haven’t been wearing black or weeping uncontrollably, so perhaps you haven’t noticed my sadness. Still, it persists. Two weeks ago, on June 24th, the world lost its last remaining Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, whose moniker was Lonesome George. I came to know George (we were on a first-name, no-descriptors-needed basis) last year when I started research for our upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands. George’s kind had been pushed to extinction by humans who hunted them as if they were an inexhaustible resource. Surprising, I know. I was looking forward to meeting him in person. But, in his typical, stubborn, I’m-the-last-of-my-kind-so-don’t-push-me way, he would not wait for me or my family.
When the report of George’s passing came across my iPhone news feed, I uttered an audible sigh of disappointment. Joe, ever observant, asked me what was wrong.
“Lonesome George died,” I told him.
“You’re joking,” he replied, assuming as we all do that any tortoise that could live to 100 would certainly live to 101 so we could meet him.
“Why would I joke about something like that?” I told him. I showed him the story and we sat and read it together, disheartened.
George was the rarest creature on Earth, which made him uncomfortable. He was removed from his native island to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island, where he was photographed, studied, and manually “stimulated” by humans in an attempt to get him to mate. (Leave it to humans to push something to the point of extinction and then force it to have sex while we watch so we can ease our consciences.) George would not comply. I liked that about him. I’ll admit it’s a bit anthropomorphic on my part, but I like to believe George would not produce offspring on command not because he couldn’t but because he simply chose not to. He knew we wanted to right our wrong of ostensibly exterminating his species. He preferred that we suffer for our crime.
I’ve always liked tortoises. They’re slow, they’re tough, and they just keep plodding along. There’s something incredibly profound about their way of persevering on this fast-paced, crazy planet. I mourn not because I won’t get to see the rarest creature on earth, but because he is no longer a creature on this earth. If we take anything from George’s life, I hope we stop at least briefly to consider how fragile life is. Some creatures, as exhibited through Darwin’s theory of natural selection, do become extinct. This is part of life on this planet. More creatures, however, become extinct because we humans decimate their habitats and carelessly destroy them. I know many people believe God gave us this planet for our use. I prefer to believe God entrusted us with the sacred duty to steward and protect this unique and incredible rock and all her creatures. We did not protect the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise or the Dodo or the Tasmanian Tiger and now they are gone. So, I’m sorry that I won’t get to meet George, but I’m mourning because there will never be another tortoise like him.
My condolences for your (our) loss. No sarcasm intended. There’s something about the last one of something being gone that leaves me with a sick emptiness in my stomach. Now there is zero chance to undo what’s been done. The finality is very heavy.
I think of this whenever I see a pileated woodpecker, and to this day try to look closely to see if it isn’t the Ivory-billed, last shot at sometime in the 1920’s.
There are many things that are gone, but thankfully, due to efforts by people like John Muir and groups like the Audobon Society, some things have been saved from destruction and even restored. The California Condor, the American Bison, Giant Sequoias and Redwoods.
It sickens me, also, to see the beginning of the end, such as the current debate about drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Does “refuge” mean anything? To know that ultimately the want of money will win out over all things saddens me deeply. Such short-sighted selfishness.
Alas, it is important to remember that man is a natural creature as well, and many habitats and perhaps species have been destroyed by other species. Humankind just seems to accelerate the process exponentially.
It’s kind of creepy and difficult to grasp with my children, grandchildren, you and others I may care about still living on this rock, but it is my innermost belief that this planet would have been better off without us, and it’s a bizarre cosmic comfort to know that one day we will be gone, and the world will be better for it.
Be at peace,
I’ve had that same thought about this planet perhaps having been better off if we had not inhabited it. Like the beaver, we are a keystone species that changes the environment around us. The beaver, however, has had only its instincts to guide it as it alters things. We’ve been endowed with the capacity to understand our effects on the planet. Too bad that so many of us live in a state of denial about our actions and their repercussions.