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World loses species with death of last Galapagos tortoise

A lumbering giant Galapagos tortoise known as Lonesome George lifts his head up during a walk in his protected home in the island chain in Puerto Ayora in this February 5, 2001 file photo. Lonesome George, the last remaining tortoise of his kind and a conservation icon, died on June 24, 2012 of unknown causes, the Galapagos National Park said. He was thought to be about 100 years old.

STRINGER/REUTERS

Lonesome George has died, leaving the world one species poorer.

The only remaining Pinta Island tortoise and celebrated conservation icon passed away Sunday, the Galapagos National Park Service said in a statement.

Estimated to be more than 100 years old, the creature's cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned.

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Lonesome George's longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the tortoise's remains stretched out in the "direction of his watering hole" on Santa Cruz Island, the statement said.

Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were already believed to be extinct. Since then, the animal had been part of the park service's tortoise program.

Repeated efforts to breed Lonesome George failed.

"Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end," the park service said.

In honor of Lonesome George, the park service said it was convening an international workshop in July on management strategies for restoring tortoise populations over the next decade.

The Galapagos Islands, situated about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off Ecuador's coast, is considered a haven for tortoises.

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