Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Lonesome" lingers

The world's most famous and notoriously unproductive Galapagos tortoise, "Lonesome George," died in Ecuador in June 2012. The American Museum Of Natural History (AMNH) commissioned taxidermist George Dante of Wildlife Preservations to prepare his body for display. Following his instructions, the tortoise's keepers wrapped his soft parts in tissue and placed his body inside thick freezer plastic, not easy to find in the remote tropics. He arrived in New York still frozen and ready for the custom preparation. His body was measured (IMAGE ABOVE) and his skin was removed, de-greased, and pared down of muscle and fat. George's skin and shell were soaked in a tanning chemical and then the skin was rubbed with tanning oil. An armature was sculpted from oil-based clay, cast in urethane foam, and reinforced with steel supports. What was left of George was draped over it, the tortoise's wrinkles and idiosyncrasies – using the many reference photos on hand – were sculpted into his skin, and the result coated with a protective seal. The preparators decided on a posture of George standing and stretching his long neck upward as it grabbing some leaves to munch on. But they found that he looked a little too perfect, so around his mouth they added the green stains of his last meal! George now has a place of prominence at the museum. Dante comments, "Somewhere else, there might have been a decision made to just put him in alcohol--to make a wet specimen that would be in a museum collection, never to be seen again. Now we have this monument for conservation that visitors can look at and make a connection with.”

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