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.