'Lonesome George' tortoise goes to New York for embalming

QUITO (AFP) - The body of "Lonesome George," a giant Galapagos tortoise once believed to be the last of its kind, has been sent to New York to be embalmed and then returned home, the Galapagos National Park said on Tuesday.

A rare Pinta Island giant tortoise, George died June 24, 2012 at an estimated 100 years of age.

At the time, he was believed to be the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, but scientists have since found at least 17 other Galapagos tortoises with similar genetic traits to George, raising hopes for keeping the endangered species going.

His remains were flown on Monday night to New York where the Museum of Natural History will preserve him with a taxidermic procedure that will take eight to nine months to complete.

The body will then be returned to the Galapagos and put on display at a museum in the location where he was first discovered in 1971.

Giant tortoises have life spans of up to 180 years, growing to 1.8m long and nearly 400kg in weight.

British naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited the Galapagos in 1835, looked to its tortoises as he developed his theory of natural selection.

The islands, which are 1,000km off Ecuador's Pacific coast, are famed for the large number of species that have developed there in isolation.

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