Lonesome George, the very last Pinta Island Tortoise, will soon take his place with other famous animals, preserved by taxidermy and on display for all to see. George was thought to be over 100 years old when he died last summer. Since then, he's been frozen, and is now in the hands of taxidermists at New York City's American Museum of Natural History.
"Doing taxidermy on a tortoise is much like working on an elephant," said George Dante, the lead taxidermist on the project. "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."
In the final product, which will take six to seven months to complete, only the eyes will be "unnatural."
"Everything else you see is what you'd see looking at the live animal," said Chris Raxworthy, the museum's curator of herpetology. Even the pose must be just so, he said, "to be accurate and to 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."
The New York museum will have George for an unspecified time, but he will eventually be returned to the Galapagos Islands. Meanwhile, scientists have renewed hope that descendants of Pinta Island tortoises can still be found or bred from closely-related tortoise species. Read more about this research at NatGeo News. Link
Previously: more about Lonesome George.