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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Monday, July 13, 2009

YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO BE TAUGHT WHY MUSEUMS ARE IMPORTANT

So another new species has been discovered in the dusty store-rooms of a natural history museum.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Inbstitute were going through the archives at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and found a hitherto unknown fruit batwhich after sitting on a shelf for more than 150 years, has it finally been "discovered" as a new species.

And it is probably extinct.

Academy records show the bat was collected in 1856 by Henry Clay Caldwell of the Navy on the Samoan island of Upolu. It came into the possession of William S. W. Ruschenberger, a surgeon who at various times was president of the College of Physicians and of the academy. He donated it in 1857. The creature had a wingspan of at least two feet, and it weighed a half-pound when alive. In the paper, published in the journal American Museum Novitates, Helgen identified a second, even larger bat species in the collection of the Smithsonian.

There have been several such species found in museums over the last year, and a few months ago Richard Freeman gave a round up of others from the past few years. These discoveries, if nothing else, highlight why natural history museums are of such importance. But it seems that they may be on the way out.

A few weeks ago we were told:

My friend went to a Care of Collections meeting the other day in London where a lot of very important museum people were and rather worryingly the trend for museums getting rid of collections seems to be becoming more popular. (She said it seemed more like a 'don't care of collections meeting) In museums the natural history collections are always the first to go as many curators don't see the importance of them. Perhaps the CFZ could do something about how the nation's museums should be safeguarding these collections not considering binning them.

Although this also presents an opportunity if you are thinking of aquiring any specimens. Apparently Bristol is thinking of greatly downsizing its natural history collection. You could write to them with an offer to take some...

If the CFZ Museum had the storage resources I would certainly do that. But the most important thing that has to be asked is "Why, for God's sake?" The natural world is infinitely fascinating, and every child that we have met recently has been at least slightly interested in what we do. Many of them have been as obsessed as I was at that age.

Why do the powers that be insist on trying to stifle that interest at an early age? Because that's what it looks like. The Zoo Licensing people appear to do their best to close zoos down rather than to help them adapt to the changing needs of the 21st Century. But even here there are anomalies. Without mentioning any names, I know of two really good small zoos that have been closed down by these increasingly stringent committees, but another one, which really is a piece of crap, which has been allowed to stay open. A fourth zoo, whose only raison d'etre appears to be to preach Creationism to schoolchildren is flourishing. It is almost as if the Zoo Licensing people have their own agenda - and that it is an agenda which has nothing to do with either animal welfare or conservation. Like so much of present government legislation both in the UK and abroad it makes no sense at all, UNLESS one envisions some completely covert agenda.

And now the same thing is happening to museums. There are good ones (like RAMM in Exeter), but the overall trend is worrying. I really do not know what to do, but I do know that we need to do something.

Suggestions please....

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/20090711_A_new_species_found_in_a_jar.html

The AMNH paper can be downloaded here:
http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/dspace/handle/2246/5965?mode=full

2 comments:

Syd said...

It is a sad fact of life that a great many items donated to or bought by museums, never see the light of day.

Many years ago, in the late 50's and early 60's my uncle worked as an attendant at the Wollaton Hall Natural History museum here in Nottingham. As part of his work, he had to spend some time every few weeks, cleaning exhibits and cases in the underground (rather damp) storage areas.

Wollaton Hall is an Elizabethan house, previously owned by the Willoughby Family. It was bought by the City of Nottingham in 1925. Several display cases remained in the store rooms, containing natural history exhibits which members of the family had brought back from assorted foreign expeditions over the previous centuries.

To give some idea of how long some of these items had been there and not even been moved, let alone put on display, I have a copy of "The Nottingham Evening Post" dated May 1st. 1878 which uncle found, tightly folded behind one of these display cases. It had been used to level up the cabinet.

It was also not unusual for him and other staff members, to find newspapers from the 1920's and 30's which had been used for the same purpose, indicating that those exhibits had most probably not been displayed to the public since the museum first opened.

Moving off the natural history theme, but staying with museums. When a man my mother knew died in the late 1950's as I recall, he left his entire collection of New Guinea tribal artefacts to Nottingham Castle Museum. They have never been displayed.

The gentleman in question, was actually the grandson of a New Guinea cannibal tribal chief and the collection, which he had displayed in his Nottingham home, included shields, spears, bows and arrows, blow pipes and poison darts, bark canoes, and at least 5 genuine 'shrunken' human heads (I remember them quite clearly sitting on his mantelpiece, as being a 7 or 8 year old boy at that time, I was fascinated by them each time we visited him). Plus there were many items of tribal jewellery and ornamentation, some of which were made of human bone and skin.

During the early 1970's, mother enquired at the museum about this collection and was informed by the Curator that they had no such collection and no knowledge of the items being gifted to them. It so happens that mother was at the house when the items were collected by the museum staff.
So what happened to them and where did they go ?? Are they perhaps sitting uncared for in a dark, dust store room or did the Curator or some other council official of the day see them as a tasty addition to their pension fund.

chimandera said...

I think the problem isn't so much with the children as the way we are taught---I have an insatiable love for learning, always have, and now as I grow into my 25th year (coming in August) I have found that my friends aren't interested in the past, more in the future and how it will affect them. Being a lower-grade than them (I never graduated, for mental health reasons that I am rectifying now), I find it odd that I often know the answers to questions that they cannot fathom.

Suggestions would be getting more young children interested in all type of museums, by possibly finding funding for more school field trips. :) And of course, addressing the lack of ambition and the ever present television issues. (Too many kids watch too much.)