Daily Archives: July 1, 2013

Meet Lonesome George

I’m sure you already know the story of Lonesome George:

And now, you can see “him” (as it were) at the American Museum of Natural History. From a press release:

Lonesome George Will Be on View at American Museum of Natural History

Museum will Oversee Preservation and Taxidermy of Famous Tortoise

Lonesome George, the 100-year-old (estimated) Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni)—the last of his kind—who died in June 2012, will be preserved for posterity by the same expert taxidermy and conservation team that worked on the acclaimed renovation of the Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History. The world-famous giant tortoise, who continues to be an icon for conservation in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, will be on display at the Museum for a limited time starting this winter. Afterwards, Lonesome George will be returned to the Galápagos.

Lonesome George, weighing 200 pounds and measuring 5 feet long, was probably the most famous and most photographed giant tortoise in the world. He died at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in June 2012. Despite efforts to provide him with a mate, George never successfully reproduced and remained the last known member of his subspecies.

The Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation works closely with the Galápagos National Park Service, the SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, and the Galápagos Conservancy to understand the current role of tortoises in the larger ecosystem and to help conserve these magnificent animals. The four organizations are working together to prepare Lonesome George’s body and spread awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation.

“We are honored to receive this incredibly important specimen and ultimately, put it on display for the public,” said Michael J. Novacek, senior vice president and provost of science at the American Museum of Natural History. “Our team of experts, using preservation and taxidermy techniques that have earned this institution recognition throughout the world, will ensure the legacy of Lonesome George lives on and is appreciated by future generations.”

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Galápagos National Park Service, SUNY ESF, and Galápagos Conservancy team to preserve such an important icon for the global conservation movement,” said Eleanor Sterling, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. “Together we will bring Lonesome George, both in his physical presence and message, before the international public in ways we hope have a lasting impact.”

Note: The top picture, from Wikipedia Commons, is NOT Lonesome George. That should be obvious, as it looks nothing like him, but I realized some people may not know that.

Honoring the 19 dead at Yarnell Hill, AZ

Nineteen fire fighters were killed yesterday as they were overrun by a lightning-sparked fire in Arizona. This consisted of the entire crew as deployed to fight the Yarnell Hill Fire near Phoenix, Arizona. The best way to honor these fallen heroes, from afar and from the perspective of fellow citizens, is to demand that more support be given to their efforts (by ending the Republican Sequester) and to acknowledge that their job has been made much harder because of global warming induced increases in wild fire frequency and severity.

Global warming is on track to double the number of wild fires in the US by 2050, but very few predictions of this type have panned out over the last ten years. Usually, the degree of severity of climate effects from global warming is much larger than predicted, or comes sooner than predicted. Some people try to push responsibility for more fires off on bad management practices, but this, while it may be a factor, is a) old news and addressed in many areas decades ago; b) pales in comparison to the effects of drought and c) pales in comparison to massive tree death which in turn is exacerbated if not simply directly caused by anthropogenic climate change.

Climate change increases wild fire frequency and severity via a number of different mechanisms (as described here). We have known for some time that global warming would change weather patterns in a way that increases the amount of burn in already dry areas such as the American Southwest and Australia. A while back it was postulated that warming in the Arctic would have this as a direct effect. And this has all come to pass in the last few years. Recently, the chief of the US Forest Service reminded Congress that climate change is the reason for the recent uptick in wild fires. I think we still have to see what effect, if any, the Republican Sequester will have on fire fighting and safety to communities and fire fighters alike.

There is an interesting meme going around, that fire fighter deaths have been declining in recent years. This is cited along side the news of the 19 who died yesterday. But that figure is for fire fighters in general, not wild fire fighters specifically, and since the data don’t include the last two years, which have been particularly bad, they may be misleading. (In the case I link to, USA Today, the 9/11 attacks are said to have occurred in 2011, so clearly, the report put together by John Bacon, is very poorly done generally.)

Between April 1990 and August 2011, 319 firefighters had died on duty in addressing fires in wild lands. According to the US Fire Administration, 47 firefighters died during the five year period 2007 and 2011 (inclusively), 91 between 2002 and 2006, 83 between 1997 and 2001, 66 between 1992 and 2001, 32 between 1987 and 1991. A the sequence 32-66-83-91-47 is not a downward trend. Unfortunately, I don’t have good data on the number of fire fighters killed for annual 2011 and 2012, and we are obviously early in the year for 2013.