"Lonesome George" was a giant tortoise that died in June 2012 in the Galapagos Islands. His age was not completely certain, but the estimates of experts placed George as being about 100 years old. With George's passing, it was believed the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise subspecies he belonged to had become extinct as he was the last known giant tortoise of his type.
Scientists had long tried to help George reproduce to help continue his lineage, but to no avail. Now it seems that Lonesome George may have had some company, "distant cousins" if you may, and there might be a way to bring back George's giant tortoise subspecies.
Reportedly, several other tortoises have been discovered that contain similar DNA material to Lonesome George. The Register reported that additional hybrid giant tortoises may also exist in the vicinity and perhaps even some "pure" giant tortoises.
Though DNA testing that has been ongoing since 2008, researchers were able to find 17 out of 1,600 tortoises that contained the Pinta Island variety. The tortoises were living at the Wolf Volcano living on Isabella Island.
According to a recent Associated Press report (courtesy of Huffington Post), scientists have said they may be able to "resurrect" the giant tortoise species through cross-breeding George's DNA with another type of tortoise.
Through this type of cross-breeding, "100 percent pure species" can be achieved, said Edwin Naula, a biologist and director of the Galapagos National Park during an interview with the Associated Press.
While this sounds promising, it won't happen overnight. Naula noted, this would not be a fast process, estimating it would take about 100 to 150 years to bring Lonesome George's subspecies back.
The Register reported that the giant tortoise population had once been very large; statistics quoted said in the 18th century they numbered 300,000. The population's decline is attributed to the tortoises being eaten by sailors and also the introduction of rats to the islands, an invasive species.
Earlier this year, BBC News reported that scientists are creating a plan to "resurrect" extinct species such as passenger pigeons, Tasmanian tigers and wooly mammoths through a cloning process. This, however, has its proponents and BBC reported that "Less charitable critics still call these efforts stunts, designed to attract attention but doing nothing to conserve species teetering on the brink of extinction."
Full results of the cross-breeding program are detailed in the most recent edition of the Biological Conservation journal.