When Lonesome George died just over a year ago, he was more than a hundred years old and believed to be the last Pinta tortoise in the world. Now taxidermists at New York City's American Museum of Natural History have received the tortoise’s frozen body and plan on stuffing him so he can be placed on permanent display, National Geographic reports.
George has been frozen since he died, and taxidermists say after they make molds of his body for future reference, will be memorialized in one of his typical poses, the New York Times reports. Once preserved and exhibited in New York, George will make a final trip to the Galápagos Islands and be placed on permanent display at the research station that he called home for 40 years.
"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."
The project will take six to seven months to complete, and taxidermists say they want George to look as natural as possible.
“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, said.
Lonesome George was a popular tortoise. Known as the last surviving Pinta tortoise, the five-foot long, 200-pound reptile became an icon for conservationists. His subspecies was hunted for food by 19th century sailors and its food supply was wiped out by wild goats that were introduced into the ecosystem in the 1950s. It was only when scientists found Lonesome George in 1971 that they discovered Pinta tortoises were not yet extinct.
Last year, scientists found 17 hybrid giant tortoises that have genes from the extinct Pinta Island tortoise. Galapagos National Park applied sciences chief Washington Tapia said experts plan on reviving the species by selectively breeding the tortoises to produce offspring as close to genetic make-up of their extinct ancestors as possible.
Study authors also believe that some Pinta tortoises still may exist in the wild today.
"The word 'extinction' signifies the point of no return," senior research scientist Adalgisa Caccone wrote in the team's grant proposal. "Yet new technology can sometimes provide hope in challenging the irrevocable nature of this concept."