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February 17, 2017
The commercial airplane covered the route from New York to Guayaquil without any mishaps, and the wooden box he was shipped in did not go unnoticed on the runway of Simón Bolívar Air Base, since it contained the body of the Lonesome George — one of the most symbolic specimens for the Galapagos.
At 12:40pm, the box was already boarded on a smaller plane this time from the Ecuadorian Air Force and departed from Guayaquil to Galapagos with five occupants.
“The illustrious son of our islands returns home,” announced the Minister of the Environment for his Twitter account, minutes before the arrival of Lonesome George to the Archipelago.
The body of the chelonian, who for 40 years was the sole representative of giant tortoises of the species Chelonoidis abingdonii from Pinta Island, has gone through a long journey, since he died of natural causes on June 24, 2012.
After the necropsy that determined that he died of old age, Lonesome George’s body was transferred to New York to be expertly preserved for posterity. This long process was made possible thanks to the scientific and financial support of the Galapagos Conservancy and the work of specialists from “Wildlife Preservations” in Woodland Park, New Jersey, led by George Dante.
Lonesome George was exhibited for three months at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2014. However, it was his destiny and the commitment of the Ecuadorian government that the emblematic tortoise return to his home.
At 2:50pm he landed on the runway of Baltra, where a delegation led by the director of the Galapagos National Park, Walter Bustos and the emblematic park guard Fausto Llerena, who looked after George for 30 years, were waiting for him.
“The Galapagos Islands is his home, the inhabitants is his family, his friends. Congratulations to all who made this possible. We succeeded, I am proud to have contributed,” said Minister Walter Garcia, after receiving Lonesome George in the room where he will be exhibited permanently.
Visibly moved was Don Fausto Llerena, that legendary Park ranger who made the tortoise a member of his family. “Bienvenido, Solitario” he shouted excitedly as the plane landed. “I always told my wife he was coming back.”
Galapagos Conservancy, the organization that committed to take his body to the United States to be taxidermied and then return it back home as a symbol of hope, made the formal delivery of the chelonian. “This was not just a tortoise anymore, it was Lonesome George. We spared no effort to meet our goal of seeing George again at home, and today we met that goal,” said Washington Tapia on behalf of Johannah Barry President of the organization.
Just yesterday the “Tortuga Route” was inaugurated, a self-guided tourist trail that leads to the Fausto Llerena captive breeding center and to the “Symbol of Hope” room where the public can view him beginning February 23rd, Sunday to Sunday from 8:00am to 6:00pm.
Content based on a press release from the Galapagos National Park Directorate, translated with their permission.