The death of a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands gives a gloomy foretaste of the sadness to come when St Helena’s best-loved inhabitant passes on.
Preparations have begun in readiness for the day when Jonathan the tortoise, the oldest known creature in the world, finally dies. He is at least 160 years old, but the hope is that his death is still some years away.
The island’s government is bracing itself for global media interest. But a report for the BBC suggests it may be the people of St Helena who need sensitive handling.
Henry Nicholls says a shadow has hung over the Galapagos Islands since the death in June of Lonesome George, the last of his species.
In a dispatch for the From Our Own Correspondent programme, he tells how Marilyn Cruz, a government vet, had to perform an autopsy on the giant tortoise.
The same will be done for Jonathan under the plans being drawn up.
“I felt a confusion of emotions,” the vet told Nicholls. She felt great sadness at the loss of this national treasure, but had to put sentiment aside, pick up an electric saw, and start cutting.
“It was not something I wanted to do, but it was something that had to be done.”
Nicholls found Lonesome George depicted in jewellery and souvenirs all along Puerto Ayora’s main street.
He also met Fausto Llerena, whose career as a ranger in the Galapagos National Park had been “largely defined” by Lonesome George:
“He looked after him, day-in-day-out, for 40 years and it was Fausto Llerena who found him dead at the end of June…
“It is only towards the end of our conversation that his emotions get the better of him and his upper lip begins to tremble.
“He was my best friend,” he says.
Tortoise tales – St Helena Online stories about Jonathan the Tortoise