George, the giant tortoise is seen in the national park of the Galapagos islands April 29, 2007, where British naturalist Charles Darwin conceived his theory of evolution. Growing tourism has conservationists worried over damage to the volcanic islands' unique ecosystem. (Photo : Reuters)
There may be hope for a revival of Lonesome George's species, the Galapagos National Park announced in a statement on Thursday. Lonesome George, a Pinta Island giant tortoise died on June 24 after multiple failed efforts to reproduce and was believed to be the last of his species.
However, scientists have discovered at least 17 tortoises on the Galapagos Islands that have similar genetic traits as George and some that may be from his genus, the AFP reported on Thursday.
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According to the AFP, researchers analyzed over 1,600 DNA samples taken in 2008 from tortoises living on Wolf Volcano, on Isabella Island, and compared them to George's DNA.
In the statement released by the National Park, researches said that the giant tortoise's death "does not represent the end of the Chelonoidis abingdonii species of Pinta Island giant tortoises."
Edwin Naula, director of the Galapagos National Park, spoke to ABC News said that cross-breeding between the 17 found tortoises could help resurrect the species. "It would be the first time that a species was recovered after having been declared extinct," he said.
However, the biologist warned, "This is going to take about 100 to 150 years." Naula said that the 17 tortoises were being transferred from Isabella Island to the park's breeding center in Santa Cruz to begin cross-breeding, ABC News reported.
Researchers estimate that the remote Pacific archipelago off the coast of Ecuador was once home to 300,000 giant tortoises of 14 different species. However, the islands now hold between 30,000 and 40,000 tortoises of 10 different species, the AFP reported.
The Galapagos, famous for inspiring Charles Darwin's evolution research, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Lonesome George was discovered two years prior and became an international sensation. He was believed to be 100 years old when he died, the AFP stated.