Lonesome George, Giant Tortoise of Galapagos, To Be 'Stuffed'

Image: Lonesome George, Giant Tortoise of Galapagos, To Be 'Stuffed'

Wednesday, 03 Jul 2013 07:20 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Fans of Lonesome George, the giant tortoise of the Galapagos which died a year ago, will get to keep him company for a long time thanks to taxidermists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Lonesome George was frozen after the giant tortoise died on the Galapagos, according to National Georgraphic, and the New York taxidermists said the tortoise should be ready for viewing sometime in the winter. He will eventually be returned to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island near Ecuador.

National Geographic's Jennifer S. Holland wrote that Lonesome George lived for about a century and was believed to be the last of his species.

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"Doing taxidermy on a tortoise is much like working on an elephant," lead taxidermist George Dante told National Geographic. "There's no fur, so we have to work to preserve the skin, maintaining its natural color and texture as much as possible, sculpting the wrinkles so they are anatomically accurate. There's very little room for error."

The taxidermists working on the Lonesome George project said the work will take between six to seven months with his shell fitting over custom-made foam that mimics his anatomy, reported National Geographic.

"We want to demonstrate the neat features he had — a long neck and unique shell morphology that let him stretch way up, an adaptation that would have helped him to reach food on a dry island like Pinta," Chris Raxworthy, the museum's curator of herpetology, told National Geographic. He said even the pose must be just so, "to be accurate and to capture the spirit of George."

BBC News reported at the time of his death last year that Lonesome George was estimated to be about 100, but his subspecies can live up to 200. He was discovered by a Hungarian scientist on the Galapagos island of Pinta in 1972.

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Scientists tried for 15 years to get Lonesome George to mate with a female tortoise of a similar species but the eggs produced were infertile, noted the BBC News. Lonesome George, with bulky size and trademark long neck became an attraction, drawing 180,000 visitors a year.

BBC News said overhunting by sailors and fisherman left the tortoises extinct after they flourished on the Galapagos in the late 19th century.

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