On January 1st, while we were all blissfully celebrating the transition from 2018 to 2019, the last land snail of the species Achatinella apexfluva, which had thrived for many years on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, had gone extinct.
The name of the snail was George. It was given to him by researchers so that he may be remembered and not simply become an extinct species left unknown to most. Researcher Michael Hadfield notes “You anthropomorphize it [i.e. George the snail] and people pay attention.” More importantly, though, is George’s story. He was “…born in the early 2000’s to parents that had been captured in the mountains [by scientists] in an effort to protect them from predators.” Then, there was a sudden mass extinction event. What researchers believe to be some form of a pathogen annihilated the remains of George’s already endangered species. George was the lone survivor of this unfortunate phenomena.
George’s species is not the only one to face extinction on the Hawaiian Islands. “At one point there were more than 750 species of land snails identified…” George’s species, however, was the first. Unfortunately, Dr. Sischo, who directs the state-run Snail Extinction Prevention Program, mentions that estimates say that “more than half of those species are already extinct.” There were other factors, other than the elusive pathogen, that have afflicted the land snails over a much longer period of time: “…invasive predators like rats and wolfsnail, which eats other snials. They also face habitat destruction and the effects of climate change; drier conditions have reduced the inhabitable land on the islands,” Dr. Sischo says.
In 2017, researchers removed a two-millimeter section of his foot and have preserved it in a “deep-freeze container” according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “The hope is that someday soon, scientists will develop the technology to clone a snail.”