The Return of Lonesome George: A Giant Tortoise Comes Home to Galapagos

The taxidermied body of the iconic Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George will return to the Galapagos Islands, the bio-diversity hotspot in the Ecuadorian Pacific where the animal lived. His final resting place will be adapted to accommodate the conditions necessary to preserve the Galapagos giant tortoise’s remains.

A source from the ministry of the Environment said that George will arrive to Santa Cruz Island this Friday February 17, 2017 in an Ecuadorian Air Force plane, and will be on private exhibit until February 23. He will later be moved to a new display room, currently being constructed to ensure the atmospheric conditions necessary to maintain the state of preservation of Lonesome George’s body. The special adaptations include humidity and temperature controls and special glass.

It is likely that Lonesome George lived to be over one hundred years old, although his exact age remains a mystery.

Lonesome George, the Last of his Kind

The tortoise was the last member of his species, Chelonoidis abingdoni, or the Pinta tortoises.  During the last 40 years of his life, he became an internationally recognized symbol of the Galapagos highlighting the importance of conservation efforts for endangered species around the world. Lonesome George was the last of his kind. He left behind no descendants and with his death the Chelonoidis abigndoni came to an end. Attempts to encourage the Pinta tortoise to mate with females of other species were unfruitful, and he was never able to reproduce.

The death of Lonesome George in 2012 was the end of an era for many conservationists and environmental activists around the world. However, George was merely the final chapter of two centuries of devastation wreaked on the island by whalers. Whalers began to arrive to the Galapagos Islands in the late 1700s and did not take long to leave their mark on the islands. Once it was discovered that giant tortoise meat was not only delicious, but that the tortoises could live for over a year without fresh water or food, these colossal creatures were captured by the hundreds and killed by the thousands.

The Restoration of Pinta Island was not early enough to save the Pinta Tortoises, the species of Lonesome George

Lonesome George in his enclosure at the Santa Cruz Breeding Center

After he was found in 1971, he was cared for at the Galapagos National Park Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island. Lonesome George died of natural causes in June 2012, and his body was found in his enclosure by Fausto Llerena, the park ranger who had looked after him in captivity.

Embalming the body of the giant tortoise was a process that took over a year, and since then Lonesome George has been on display over in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Once the display room has been appropriately prepared, George will return to his place of origin. In honor of his arrival, the Galapagos National park has developed the ‘Tortoise’s Journey’, an educational walk that will teach visitors about the biodiversity of Galapagos. The path will also open next Friday, and lead visitors from the park entrance to the iconic giant tortoise’s display room.

Source: Agencia Efe

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Writer, translator. Enthusiastic traveler of Ecuador and the Galapagos.

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