Preserving Lonesome George

Lonesome George was one of the most famous animals in the world. When he died in 2012, aged around 100, he was believed to be the very last of his subspecies, the Pinta Island giant tortoise (though scientists have since suggested he may have a few more living relatives). Upon his demise it was decided that George should be preserved, but the task was not an easy one. The tortoise spent nine months in a freezer in the Galapagos Islands before being flown to New York, where highly-skilled taxidermists were employed to turn him into a lifelike specimen. They studied thousands of photographs of the animal to create an accurate pose, and, through a laborious process of tanning, sculpting and painting, succeeded in bringing to George back to life.

“Somewhere else, there might have been a decision made to just put him in alcohol – to make a wet specimen that would be in a museum collection, never to be seen again,” his taxidermist said. “Now we have this monument for conservation that visitors can look at and make a connection with.”

Lonesome George is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York until January. Then he’ll be returned to Ecuador.

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