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Blood tests prove that Lonesome George, the Pinta Island giant tortoise, was not the last of his kind

posted 22 Nov 2012, 13:27 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 22 Nov 2012, 13:30 ]

Biologists in the Galapagos Islands celebrate the discovery of tortoises with similar genetic traits to those of Lonesome George, a Pinta Island giant tortoise who passed away last year.

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, ECUADOR  (REUTERS) -  Biologists in the Galapagos Islands announced on Wednesday (November 21) that blood tests prove that at least 17 tortoises share similar genetic traits to Lonesome George, the late Pinta Island giant tortoise who passed away last year.

Scientists thought the massive tortoise, believed to be 100 years old when he died, was the last of his species due to a series of unsuccessful mating attempts.

But recent test results show that George wasn't as lonesome as once thought.

"They took blood samples, and they have been analysed. Finally, a few weeks ago they completed the analysis and what they found was that from these 1700 tortoises, there are 17 that have the same genes as the Pinta species from the Wolf Volcano," saidWashington Tapia, a biologist at Galapagos National Park.

Lonesome George was found by a Hungarian scientist in 1972 and had become a symbol of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.

Since George's genetic material has survived in other tortoises on the islands, scientists are hoping that they may one day be able to bring the species back to life.

"There were probably pure parents - those that were originally taken by humans, probably whalers or pirates - up to the Wolf Volcano and, given their longevity, they established themselves and reproduced with the Wolf turtles. This has given us the possibility of regenerating the Pinta species at some point in the future," added Tapia.

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.