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Should Lonesome George the Tortoise Be Stuffed?

Should Lonesome George the Tortoise Be Stuffed?

Last Sunday morning, Lonesome George, a 100-year-old tortoise from the Galapagos Islands, was found dead by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llere, at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador. As the last of his subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, Lonesome George had been given the title of the “loneliest creature in the world” and, indeed, dubbed the rarest creature on earth.

On Monday, the Galapagos Island Park announced that “Lonesome George’s body will be embalmed and displayed so that future generations can know him.”

This statement has occasioned the question of whether, as  writes in the Guardian,

When a famous animal dies, what should be done with its corpse?

Nicholls is the author of Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon in which he argued in favor for “something similar” as, “even when George gave up the tortoise ghost, he would continue to be of immense symbolic value to Galapagos.”

After the Berlin Zoo’s beloved polar bear Knut passed away last year, there was a huge outcry about stuffing and displaying him in a museum. Nicholls admits to being “little uneasy at this talk of ‘embalming’” Lonesome George, though not from reasons of “sentimentality or squeamishness.”

Nicholls  recounts the public outrage at calls to stuff other animals who had won the hearts of many, Chi-Chi the giant panda at the London Zoo (and the inspiration for the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s logo) who died in 1972 and Guy the Gorilla, a celebrity at the London Zoo until his death in 1978. The Natural History Museum’s announced that it would send both animals to the taxidermist. The honorary secretary of the Zoological Society, Lord Anthony Chaplin, summed up the sentiments of many:

Are all future hon secs, presidents etc of the society to be stuffed and exhibited in a museum?

Ham the Astrochimp was sent into space in 1961, a few months before Yuri Gagarin became the first human to do so. At Ham’s death in 1983, plans emerged to stuff him and display him in his capsule in the Air and Space Museum. Amid the statements of public outrage was this from the Washington Post:

The only national heroes we can think of who are stuffed and on permanent display are VI Lenin and Mao Tse-tung. Does this nation really want to emulate the Soviet and Chinese models? … How about treating America’s First Ape with a little respect? Bury Ham.

Ham was indeed cremated and is buried at the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

What should be the fate of Lonesome George? Nicholls, aware of the tortoise’s huge part in bringing attention to the Galapagos Island to help preserve them and their magnificent, and threatened, wildlife, proposes not embalming the tortoise but preserving only his “empty shell, carefully oiled and set on a plinth.” Such would be a way for Lonesome George still to be “a silent but surprisingly vocal activist.” What do you think?

Related Care2 Coverage

100-Year-Old Giant Tortoise, Last of His Subspecies, Dies (Video)

Should Knut the Polar Bear Be Stuffed and Displayed in a Museum? (VIDEO)

Earless Bunny Crushed to Death by Accident

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Photo by Peter Wilton

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105 comments

+ add your own
6:50AM PST on Feb 2, 2013

SAD

4:51AM PST on Dec 3, 2012

No.

10:05AM PST on Nov 24, 2012

I don't think so.

1:08AM PDT on Oct 6, 2012

I think freeze drying would be better to preserve the beloved tortoise and it would look very natural as well. I am sure the death of such a magnificent would be mourned deeply by all that had the honor of being part of its life. But every angle must be looked at as well such as cost, storage area after process, emotional consideration. To some it brings comfort and peace to others lingering sadness. Peace....

2:51PM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

If this was done tastefully, the wondrous size of him and the sad story of his species might help people understand why we need to better protect animals on our planet- I don't think a photo or video could really translate the emotions. Or the very least a life-sized model of him...

7:04PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

I cried when Lonesome George died as every few years for as long as I can remember (I am a great grandmother) I have read an article and seen a photo of the old guy. I have always felt he had no interest in the ladies as he was aware of the fact he was not like them. For years he has reminded me Ishi the last Yahi Indian. I think he knew just like Ishi and it breaks my heart thinking of how lonely that would feel. To stuff any sentient being is unconscionable and in this case particularly a terrible ending for a very lonely creature who deserves far more from the species who caused the demise of his species.

10:42AM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

I've been hoping that somehow they could clone L.G. Otherwise I'm not sure how I feel about this. I see both sides.

1:09PM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

I forgot to add that I agree that he should be cloned if possible, perhaps also his DNA can be crossbred with a closely related species, then bred back the way cat and dog breeders do to one day hopefully create 100% genetically true "Georges". The reason I suggest this is because humans were directly responsible for this species' endangerment.

1:05PM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

I see no problem with this because he was the last of his kind, like the dinosaur-it's for educational purposes only and should be a solemn reminder people why we should preserve all living species-and a shame that we can now no longer see George's species alive on this earth.

4:28AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

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