How do you turn a tortoise popsicle into a beautiful museum piece?

After decades of a quiet existence in captivity and a series of failed breeding attempts, the last known Pinta Island Tortoise, famously known as Lonesome George, died unexpectedly in his paddock on June 24, 2012. He was only 100 years old—still young for a giant tortoise, as their life span commonly reaches 150 years and can exceed 200.

Once a species goes extinct, often the only way its story can be told is through museum exhibits and taxidermy. It takes a talented—and courageous!—taxidermist to tackle the monumental task of producing a lifelike replica of an extinct species. In Lonesome George’s case, the task was not only to recreate a species, but an individual’s character as well.


The process of producing a mount of Lonesome George was undertaken by master taxidermist George Dante. All told the process took 19 months and over $30,000. Getting the proper permits and documents to import Lonesome George into the U.S. for preparation alone took nine months! Check out the slideshow documenting his journey here.

The video below explains how Dante, with the help of scientists, ecologists and other taxidermists, turned Lonesome George’s frozen posthumous remains into a masterpiece that evokes George’s unique personality. This process lies within the realm where art and science intersect, and exemplifies why art and science need not be at odds—and also why museums are still relevant and important institutions in the Age of Information.


Lonesome George was on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City from September 19 – January 4, 2015. There is public desire that Lonesome George go on a world tour, and the people of the Galapagos want him to return to the islands of his origin; but for now it appears that he is headed for Ecuador’s capital, Quito.

What do you think? Should Lonesome George go on a world tour, be displayed in Quito, or go back to his home in the Galapagos? Let us know in the comments!

Posted January 6, 2015

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