Lonesome George, the world’s last Galapagos Tortoise, died last Sunday at the Galapagos Islands National Park. He was believed to be about 100 years old. There will be an autopsy to determine the cause of death, but it is believed that Lonesome George died of old age. Obviously taking your time and eating your greens has its benefits.
He was discovered in 1972 in Pinta, Ecuador when the world thought giant tortoises to be extinct, and despite the best efforts of conservationists be bring in mates from other species of tortoises Lonesome George, like his namesake George Michael, remained a confirmed bachelor and failed to leave offspring. The lone tortoise became a symbol for the Galapagos Islands and for endangered species. Thankfully not every endangered species’ story has to end as Lonesome George’s did.
Islands around the world often have unique species that live there and nowhere else. Islands cover only about 3 percent of the entire planet, but is home to 20 percent of known species and 50 percent of endangered species. The Galapagos, a group of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, are well known for inspiring Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution and natural selection from what he observed there.
Our very own Borneo has plant and animal species you can’t find anywhere else on Earth. We share the Heart of Borneo, a 220,000-km2 region in the mountainous centre of the island, with an estimated 10 primate species, over 350 bird species, and 150 reptiles and amphibian species. At least 15,000 plants, of which 6,000 are found nowhere else in the world, thrive in swamps, mangroves, lowland and forests of the island.
Borneo has been an interest of scientists for over 150 years, and has played a key role in the discovery of evolution. Notably, Alfred Wallace’s theories of natural selection were inspired by his travels on the island in the 19th century. Wallace was a contemporary of Darwin, his travel journal was published in a massive tome entitled, “The Malay Archipelago”.
Since that time, scientists have busied themselves discovering and naming new species, and they will continue doing so for decades to come - if the forests are not wiped out by deforestation. The island of Borneo has lost approximately half of its forest cover in the past 50 years to oil palm plantations, pulp and paper, logging, and fires. Our wildlife is amongst the most besieged in the world.
A Reforestation Project in Sabah serves a number of threatened species in Borneo, amongst others the Borneo Pygmy Elephants and Clouded Leopard. There should be global awareness, cooperation and action on an international level to stop species loss and deforestation.
It is all too easy to forget the importance of wildlife in our urbanized life, but take for example the tiny bee. Farmers depend on them to pollinate crops. If crops are not pollinated, they don't produce fruit and vegetables. Almost 70% of everything we eat is either fruit and veggies or their by-products. Without the simple bee there would be starvation on a global scale.
Indeed, islands can act as a real world Research and Development lab for discovering and ensuring the survival of threatened species. There are plenty of new threats on the horizon, like climate change, invasive species and habitat loss. These are the challenges we need to engage in if we are going to help other species avoid Lonesome George’s fate.
Photo from the Brunei Times.
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