Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prize Story Live in Portland

Here, below, see the promised details on a reading of  "Diode," a new and improved adaptation of Part I of the book-in-progress, Diode's Experiment: A Box Turtle Investigates the Human World. We were delighted that the story won the 2011 first prize in the Kay Snow Award nonfiction division. (The response of the judges' table at the award ceremony was a unison yell of "DIODE!" Hilarious.)

I'll be reading on Wednesday, February 1, 2012, seven o' clock, at the Blackbird Wine Shop, 4323 NE Fremont Street, Portland, OR 97213, (503) 282-1887, along with wonderful writers Sue Parman, Fred Melden, and Sharon Davis Appleman. The program is a mix of stories and poetry, plus the deliciousness of deli plates and glasses of wine to buy for accompaniment. The First Wednesday series, short of those options, is free.

And here is another shot of Diode herself, still with me after forty years, staring at me with her why-are-you-confronting-me-with-that-camera-again expression. She has climbed up on a shelter in the turtles' favorite spot (the favorite, that is, except for summertime afternoons outside): the lab's six-foot garden window, which looks out at the backyard and rear deck. I had an acrylic barrier made for the room side of the space, so, if you're wondering, it's safe.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lost and Found: Hope for Lonesome George and Other 'Extinct' Species?

Does the doom and gloom of our rapid-fire extinction of Earth’s species sometimes get to you? It does to me, and it hits especially hard to see turtles as the group hit hardest by threats of continued extinctions: forty to fifty percent of the 300 or so species with a high level of threat.  (See, in this blog, “The Year of the Turtle and World Turtle Day,” May 24, 2011.) Yes, we have lost and nearly lost many species, primarily to human predation, habitat loss, and wild collection. Sometimes we take it as a call to action; other times all we want to do is to cover our eyes and ears like the “I see no evil”/“I hear no evil” monkeys.

But there are times when a ray of sunshine shines through the depressive statistics, at least on the small scale: the survival or possible survival of individuals of species once thought lost. Think of the excitement surrounding the ivory-billed woodpecker and the great search for survivors. Better, where there is one or even possibly one, perhaps there are others.

Now we know that Lonesome George, the famous Galapagos tortoise thought otherwise extinct, has relatives on another island bearing some of his species’ genes, opening new possibilities of finding a mate for him—perhaps in captive populations, perhaps on his relatives’ island; and who knows in these early days of genetic manipulation what can eventually be done. Certainly that would be a use of the developing technology that everyone could embrace.

C. Elephantopus Hybrid tortoise with
One of the hybrid Galapagos tortoises found on Isabela
Island, a hope for bringing back a species thought extinct.

Recently a paper came out in Current Biology saying that one of the other Galapagos tortoise species, Geochelonoidis elephantopus of Floreana Island, thought extinct, also has relatives, but on Isabela Island, two hundred miles away from their one-time home. From genetic analysis, it looks as if hybridization has been happening for the two hundred or so years since ships started to deposit tortoises from one island onto another. What is most hopeful is that 30 of the 84 hybrids found so far are not more than fifteen years old: young enough that purebred parents are “likely” to be found. Ryan Garrick and his coauthors say that if they are found, they “could constitute core founders of a captive breeding program directed toward resurrecting this species.”

Even if purebred G. elephantopus parents are not found, like Lonesome George, even close relatives may provide possibilities of recovery down the line. As Ryan Garrick and his coauthors conclude, the legacy of hybridization “may occasionally be the creation of opportunities to resuscitate imperiled species.”

Jennifer Welsh, as “‛Extinct’ Galapagos Tortoise Reappears” and “No Longer Extinct? Traces of Giant Tortoises Found.” January 9, 2012.; also, under the second title, at

 For Garrick et al. and other relevant original papers, including the one on Lonesome George, see:

and M.A. Russello et al., “DNA from the past informs ex situ conservation for the future: an ‘extinct’ species of Gal├ípagos tortoise identified in captivity.” PLoS One. 2010 Jan 13;5(1):e8683.

Also see the following fine books:

Paul Chambers. A Sheltered Life: The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise. London: John Murray, 2004.

Henry Nicholls, Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon. Basingstoke Hampshire, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan/Macmillan, 2006; and, as a paperback, Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World’s Most Famous Tortoise. London: Pan Macmillan, 2007.

Craig B. Stanford, The Last Tortoise: A Tale of Extinction in Our Lifetime. Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.