Current Affairs Prague tortoise was thought to be “twin” of Pinta tortoise Lonesome George
The death of Lonesome George, the last remaining Pinta island giant tortoise recently saddened legions of nature and reptile lovers around the world. His unexpected demise in a reservation on the Galapagos Islands came at the estimated age of 100 years or more. For quite some time, tortoise experts believed that George might not be as ‘lonesome’ as previously assumed: a Prague Zoo tortoise bore such close resemblance to George that even reptile experts thought he might too be a member of the Pinta species.
When Lonesome George died, the Pinta tortoise species, a subgroup of the Galapagos giant tortoise, went extinct with him. Named after his lonely destiny as the last of his kind, George had become a symbol of the conservation efforts on the Galapagos Islands and a living reminder of species extinction caused by humans.
However, even Peter Pritchard, who is considered the expert on Galapagos tortoises, was fooled by Prague Zoo’s Antonio. The tortoise was so similar to Lonesome George that it took DNA analysis at Yale University to determine that he was not in fact a member of the Pinta species. Petr Velenský is the head of the zoo’s reptile exhibit.
“They look incredibly similar, and Peter Pritchard was completely wowed by their resemblance when he came to our zoo in 2000. He said that if they were both Pinta tortoises, Antonio could prove very useful in animating George to reproduce with tortoises of closely related species. But the Yale DNA analysis showed that Antonio is a Pinzo tortoise and that they had similar shells and bodies because they lived in similar conditions.”
As a Pinzo tortoise, Antonio is also a member of a very rare species. Only some 400 such tortoises remain in the Galapagos. In addition, he is the only saddle-backed tortoise living in Europe at the moment and as such a real star at Prague Zoo, says Petr Velenský.
“We try to point that out to our visitors, that he is a symbol of extinction caused by humans as his species is the second most threatened among the Galapagos tortoises. He is a real personality, likes to show off and be dominant in front of visitors, he raises his neck up high until he looks like a giraffe tortoise, and he is very self-confident. We hope that one day he will be able to return to the Galapagos and become part of the conservation breeding efforts there.”
Until that day, those who are interested in rare species can visit Antonio in Prague Zoo’s reptile pavilion.