Lonesome George," the last survivor of the subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni of the giant tortoises ("galapagos" in Spanish) that gave Ecuador's Galapagos Islands their name, was found dead over the weekend in its corral, Galapagos National Park said.
Ranger Fausto Llerena, who looked after Lonesome George, observed Sunday morning that the tortoise was not moving and "upon giving it a checkup he realized it showed no signs of life," the national park said in a statement.
"The chelonian's body was positioned as if headed for the watering hole," the national park said, noting that the possible causes of the creature's death will be determined by an autopsy.
The body of Lonesome George, whose exact age is unknown but "is estimated at more than 100 years," is currently in a refrigerated chamber to ward off decomposition, the national park said.
The tortoise came from Pinta Island, the southernmost of the Galapagos, and was rescued in 1972 by a team of hunters who were there to eradicate the goats, a species introduced by man that had virtually destroyed the habitat and brought the giant tortoises to the brink of extinction.
Since then, "Jorge" or "George" had been part of the national park's program for breeding the species in captivity.
Different methods were used to stimulate reproduction, at first with females of the subspecies from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, with which George finally mated after being in their company for 15 years, but the eggs were infertile.
Later it was placed in a corral with females of the genetically closer subspecies from Española Island, where he remained until Sunday.
Next month an international workshop will be held to formulate a strategy for managing the tortoise populations over the next 10 years to ensure their comeback, Galapagos National Park director Edwin Naula said.
"The workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George," the national park said, adding that "the creature's legacy will be greater efforts in research and management to restore the Pinta Island population and all the other giant tortoise populations in the Galapagos."
The Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the Ecuadorian mainland, served as a natural laboratory that inspired English scientist Charles Darwin to develop his theory about evolution, natural selection and the origin of species. EFE