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Press ReleasePuerto Ayora, Galapagos – November 21, 2008Three months after eggs were laid in the first nest of Geochelone becky female 107 from the Wolf Volcano area of Isabela Island (one of two females that share a pen with Lonesome George), the eggs have started to show signs of being infertile.Freddy Villalva, the park ranger in charge of GNP’s “Fausto Llerena” Giant Tortoise Captive Breeding Center, reported that the last routine monitoring of the 13 incubated eggs showed that most have experienced a notable weight loss, which indicates that there may be little chance that they will hatch.For example, egg number 3 of the second nest, which went into the incubator on August 4 with a weight of 127 grams, weighed only 82 grams (approximately 35% less) by November 4. Similarly, egg number 4 of the same nest lost 66 grams. Under normal conditions, weight is maintained or there is only a slight weight loss.“Another symptom observed in these eggs is that some of the shells show a fungus growth on them. Nevertheless, 20% of the eggs may still hatch,” said the park ranger.In captivity, there is about an 85% hatching success, much greater than in a natural state, where weather conditions play a major role. Villalva remarked that it is normal for eggs to lose between 10 and 15 grams from the time they go into the incubator until their last weighing. The hatching process itself takes five days, after which the tortoises are placed in a dark box for the yolk sac absorption process to be completed.Source: Galapagos National Park Press Release
Although it is difficult to tell exactly what this elderly tortoise is thinking, the news from the Galapagos National Park today cannot have enlivened Lonesome George’s day. Park wardens have confirmed that there is no immediate hope for George’s lineage to continue. Galapagos Conservancy joins the many individuals and institutions who are saddened by the news that none of the eggs found in George’s corral in Galapagos are fertile. CDF Executive Director Graham Watkins commented, “We are aware that this kind of event – especially with such long-lived species as the giant tortoises – is just part of the process we’ve been involved in for almost 50 years.” Former head of science at CDF, Linda Cayot , who worked for years with George, believes all is not lost. “From the outset, we said that there was a real prospect of getting infertile eggs. Now, after the incubation period and the proof of infertility, we just have to keep on working. What’s more, now there’s an opportunity to place Española females in George’s pen, and they are genetically closer to him than the ones that laid the eggs, which were from the Wolf Volcano population. The process will continue. Those of us doing science in Galapagos are willing to keep on working and waiting.” Freddy Villalva from the Galapagos National Park reports that there are still two other eggs which may hatch in January, though he himself recognizes that there is little chance for these two eggs to be fertile. After 130 days in the incubators at the Galapagos National Park’s Fausto Llerena Giant Tortoise Captive Breeding Center, eight eggs from Lonesome George’s two female companions were opened to analyze their contents at the GNP’s Fabricio Valverde Laboratory. The tests only confirmed that the eggs were never fertilized, according to GNP technical staff who conducted the analysis along with a group of tortoise genetics experts. Gisella Caccone, leader of a Yale University genetics group that has been working for more than fifteen years with giant Galapagos tortoises, explained that “all of the eggs that should have hatched in late November were analyzed to find some sign of an embryo, but unfortunately none showed the least trace of embryo development.”