American Museum Of Natural History To Preserve Lonesome George
July 3, 2013

American Museum Of Natural History To Preserve Lonesome George

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Lonesome George, a 100-year-old giant tortoise that once lived on the Galapagos Islands, is going to be preserved by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Scientists made the surprising discovery of Lonesome George on Pinta Island in 1972. They had thought his species, Geochelone nigra abingdoni, was already extinct before then. The famous tortoise passed away in June 2012, found lifeless near his favorite watering hole. Taxidermists now hope to keep his image alive forever.

The American Museum of Natural History wrote that Lonesome George will be preserved in consultation with Museum scientists and by the same expert taxidermy and conservation team that worked on the renovation of the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals. This hall features 46 stuffed animals ranging from a nine-banded armadillo to white-tailed deer.

"Doing taxidermy on a tortoise is much like working on an elephant," George Dante, the lead taxidermist on the project, 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."

According to the NatGeo report, the final product will take six to seven months to complete. Only the eyes on the animal will be "unnatural."

"Everything else you see is what you'd see looking at the live animal," Chris Raxworthy, the museum's curator of herpetology told National Geographic. He added that even the post will be accurate to help capture the "spirit of George."

"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," Raxworthy said.

Taxidermists at the museum will be closely working with the Galapagos National Park Service, SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, and the Galapagos Conservancy to prepare the giant tortoise's body and also spread awareness about the importance of conservation.

"An icon for biodiversity conservation, Lonesome George will be on display at the Museum for a limited time starting this winter before he is returned to the Galapagos," the museum wrote in a statement.

Although Lonesome George is gone forever, his species may not be. Scientists believed at the time of his death he was the last member of his species. But one hopeful team is headed back to the Galapagos to look for surviving individuals of this species. If no survivors can be found, there is still hope because this group has confirmed 17 hybrid giant tortoises were ancestors of Lonesome George.