The giant tortoise Lonesome George — the last of the Pinta Island subspecies and a symbol of the Galapagos — died Sunday, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement.
“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula, said. “His life cycle came to an end.”
His exact age was unknown, but he was thought to be about 100 years old, according to The Huff Post. It is not very old, as Galapagos tortoises have been known to live for 200 years.
Scientists said they expected George to live another few decades at least, and are planning a necropsy to figure out why he died.
Lonesome George was found dead by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llerena, on Sunday morning.
George was discovered in 1972 in the islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s ideas of evolution.
Scientists had been trying to get George to mate since 1993, when they introduced two female tortoises of a different subspecies into his pen. They laid eggs twice, but, infortunately, they were infertile.
The Telegraph reports, the giant Galapagos tortoises, which can live up to 200 years old, were among the species that helped Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution in the 19th century.
The Galapagos National Park is considering embalming George’s body so that it can be displayed in the park.
George was actually named after American actor George Gobel, a TV star of the 1950s, who called himself “Lonesome George,” according to NY Daily News.
The Galapagos’ giant tortoise population was decimated after the arrival of humans. Tortoises were hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction, while their habitat has been eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland.
A recovery program run by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation has increased the overall population from 3,000 in 1974 to 20,000 today, accprdong to Fox News.
“The plight of Lonesome George provided a catalyst for an extraordinary effort by the government of Ecuador to restore not only tortoise populations throughout the archipelago but also improve the status of other endangered and threatened species,” the Galapagos National Park said in a news release.
Lonesome George was a symbol of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, which attracted some 180,000 visitors last year.
The islands often attract celebrities, for instance, earlier this year Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt visited the island.
The pen where Lonesome George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, who often had to scramble with each other to take pictures of one of the rarest creatures on Earth.