“The voice of the forest” has fallen silent. The Hawaiian tree snail “Lonely George” died in early January. Science is facing the consequences of a man-made decline in animal species. But there is still a glimmer of hope.
Perhaps the loneliest snail in the world is dead – and with it a whole species is dying out. “Lonely George” was 14 years old. It belonged to the species Achatinella apexfulva and lived in a laboratory in the US state of Hawaii until New Year’s Day. George belonged to the tree snail genus. These are large, beautiful snails that have been abundant in the Hawaiian forests for centuries.
But like Professor Michael Hadfield US broadcaster CNN reports, the now remaining species – ten in number – will probably not survive the next ten years. “Hundreds of species of snails have disappeared from the Hawaiian islands in the past few decades,” says the scientist. In order to prevent this negative trend, the last conspecifics of George have been collected since 1997 and kept at the University of Hawaii. But all the effort was in vain: George leaves no descendants.
How did it even come to this? In this case, it is hardly surprising that it is primarily the human being to blame. The Achatinella apexfulva could initially develop without any natural enemies and accordingly had no defense mechanisms. When the first rats reached the habitats of the molluscs on merchant ships, their martyrdom began. It was similar with the voracious chameleons that once found their way to the Pacific islands as pets.
And not only that: A slimy cousin, the rosy wolf snail, began to eat the local conspecifics in the 1950s. Despite its flowery name, the Euglandina rosea was once introduced to control other invasive species. The measure backfired. Many native tree snails fell victim to it.
Of singing snails and giant turtles
The extinction of so many species illustrates the dwindling biodiversity on the Hawaiian islands. Like the British “Guardian” writes, George was a shining example of the efforts of science to put an end to this circumstance. “I know he’s just a snail, but he stands for so much more”, quotes “National Geographic” the Hawaiian biologist David Sischo. In the legends of the natives of the Pacific Islands, the snails, which are known to crawl silently, are nonetheless the “voice of the forest”. It was said that they sing wonderfully.
With George, Hawaii is losing a visitor magnet and admonishing reminder of man-made destruction in the animal kingdom. But there is still a glimmer of hope. According to Hadfield, biologists were able to secure George’s DNA. “Somewhere, someday, maybe we can use it to restore a George.” Until then, the scientists keep his case and body, according to the Guardian. This means that he is certain to have a monument similar to that of his famous namesake. “Lonesome George”, the world-famous giant tortoise, was the last representative of its subspecies on the Galapágos Islands. After he died in 2012, he was embalmed. Since then, he has also served mankind as a testimony to a bygone era – when legendary animals populated the earth undisturbed.