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Lonesome George, the Iconic Galápagos Tortoise, Gets Prepared for Taxidermy [Video]

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Lonesome George in his pen, May 3, 2011
Lonesome George checks out a keeper in his Galápagos pen, May 3, 2011–a year before he died.
Credit: Philip Yam

The world’s most famous tortoise will soon make a return to public display—in mounted form.

The last of his species, Lonesome George was an icon for conservation and evolution. He was found alone on Pinta Island, part of the Galápagos archipelago, in 1971—human hunting and introduced goats had destroyed his kind and his habitat. So conservationists transported the 90-kilogram (200-pound) reptile to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Although two females of a closely related subspecies from Isabella Island kept him company, sadly, no eggs ever successfully hatched.

After his death in June 2012 (he was believed to be at least 100 years old), researchers froze his body and shipped him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, whose skilled taxidermists will preserved him for posterity. He will go on display at the museum in the winter before returning home to the Galápagos.

The nearly six-minute video outlines the preparation, which includes figuring out how best to pose and mount him—which is more complicated than you’d think.

Philip Yam About the Author: Philip Yam is the managing editor of He is the author of The Pathological Protein: Mad Cow, Chronic Wasting and Other Prion Diseases. Follow on Twitter @philipyam.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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