The last known Achatinella apexfulva in the Hawaiian Islands, “George,” died on New Year’s Day, 2019. George was about 14 years old and his name was derived from the Pinta Island Galapagos tortoise, “Lonesome George,” also the last of its species.
The Achatinella apexfulva was the first of over 750 species of land snails from the Hawaiian Islands described in western science. The first mention dates back to at least 1787 when Capt. George Dixon was docked on Oahu and was given a shell on a lei. These snails were once common on Oahu in the Koolau Mountains and were used heavily for lei-making, as access to them was much easier at lower elevations.
In 1997, the last 10 known Achatinella apexfulva were brought to a laboratory at the University of Hawaii for captive rearing. Some additional offspring were produced but later all the Achatinella apexfulva died, except for George.
A two-millimeter snippet of George’s foot was collected in 2017 for research purposes, and the living tissue remains alive in a deep freeze container at San Diego’s Frozen Zoo.
George’s passing is a significant loss to locals, as he was featured in numerous articles and hundreds of school children viewed him over the years.
The remaining land snails in Hawaii face imminent extinction threats from invasive species and climate change. The Snail Extinction Prevention Program is featured prominently in the upcoming television documentary, “Forests for Life,” which chronicles the vital importance of Hawaii’s native forests to all life in Hawaii.
The hour-long special, considered the most comprehensive look at all the benefits native forests provide and the threats they face, debuts on KFVE-TV (K5), at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18 with a repeat on Monday, Jan. 21, at 8 p.m.