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.
The AMNH paper can be downloaded here: