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No Rest, No Peace for Lonesome George: Giant Tortoise Gets Stuffed

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It seems that Lonesome George, the Galápagos tortoise who never mated and then died a year ago at age 100, will not be permitted to rest in peace, after all. He is going to be stuffed and put on display in New York City.

He survived a goat invasion, marauding whale hunters and a solitary existence on remote Pinta Island. He died in middle age at about 100, a good century before he should have, of a possible heart attack. (Related: Lonesome George, Last of the Pinta Island Tortoise Species, Walks On)

During his life “Lonesome” George was, as the Christian Science Monitor noted upon his demise, surrounded by media, scientists and the occasional potential mate. At five feet long and weighing 200 pounds, George was quite a presence, sought out by tourists who flocked to view him in his paddock, The New York Times said.

After his death he was put into a deep freeze. Now he has been shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and thawed out so that his skin can be painstakingly stretched over a replica of his body and displayed for posterity. The dubious honor is accorded because of his status as a symbol: As one of the last (perhaps the last, though recently that has been called into question) members of the giant Pinta Island species, he is in a unique position to teach us about mega tortoises and their kin.

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On the upside, his kind may not be extinct. Last year scientists from Yale University found his DNA wandering about elsewhere in the Galápagos.

Humans discovered George hunkered down on an island in 1971, according to National Geographic. He was all by himself, leading them to think that he was the last of his kind. Goats had stripped his habitat of food, so he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station on neighboring Santa Cruz Island to finish out his life. At some point he was matched up with two females of a related species in hopes that he would mate. But he did not, instead earning the moniker Lonesome George.

Lack of offspring notwithstanding, George will leave a legacy. Those who knew him best—his caretakers at the Darwin station—will choose his eternal pose, and he will remain at the New York City museum through the winter before being returned to the Galápagos Islands to go on permanent display at the research station, The New York Times reports.

“What George is as a symbol shouldn’t be forgotten,” said Linda Cayot, the science adviser to the Galápagos Conservancy, to The New York Times. “And the best way of doing that is having him there in front of everyone.”