Lonesome George, the Last of His Kind, Strikes His Final Pose
J Thoendell stashed this in Science
After the century-old giant tortoise died, Galápagos conservationists and a taxidermist had to figure out how to continue his legacy
Not just one, but a team of taxidermists decided his final pose!
Now, what remains of Lonesome George’s legacy is a lifelike mount at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Designed by an expert team of taxidermists, the display depicts George at his most majestic; with neck outstretched and shell polished.
Serendipity brought him to the museum. On the same morning that Fausto Llerena, George’s handler since 1983, found the tortoise sprawled out dead in his pen, a congregation of conservationists had just arrived to Santa Cruz Island for a citizen science workshop. Santa Cruz Island, where George drew millions of visitors over his 40-year tenure, is one of four inhabited islands in the Galápagos chain; the other more than three-dozen islands and islets are untouched wilderness preserves. When Llerena informed the Galápagos National Park Service of George’s passing, they shared the sad news with their guests, many of whom began to cry. For Eleanor Sterling, a chief conservation scientist at the AMNH who arrived on the island that day, the next 24 hours were filled with disbelief. “We just witnessed extinction,” she says.
Galápagos tortoises can live up to 150 years, so George’s death came unexpectedly. The park had made no prior arrangements. “It’s always hypothetical until you’re in the middle of it,” Sterling says. “Then suddenly you’ve got this big weight on your shoulders.”