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  • The Return of the Rhino: Conserving our biggest skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 February 2015

    In November, we announced that Reg the (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino skeleton was being dismantled and taken away for an extreme make-over (read Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps). Now he has returned in much better shape (specifically, rhino-shaped), prepared for a long and prosperous future in the Museum.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you'lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you’lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    Reg, a Bone Idol

    The rhino was among the first specimens included in our huge conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, which will secure the long-term future of 39 of our biggest, rarest and most significant specimens. Some will be cleaned of 180 years of particulate pollutants, some will be repaired, some have new cases built, and some, like the rhino, will be completely remounted.

    What was wrong with the rhino?

    (more…)

    Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2014

    On 10th November the Grant Museum team took on the giant task of dismantling the largest specimen in the Museum – our huge (hornless) one-horned rhino skeleton. This is one of the first steps in our massive conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons (click the link to read more about it and how you can support it).

    In this previous post I described the the history of this specimen and what conservation work will be done to this invaluable specimen. We also set a Twitter competition to #NameTheRhino – he shall now be known as Reg. Full details about that at the bottom.

    How to take apart a complicated massive skeleton, in ten easy steps.

    This was all coordinated by skeleton conservator Nigel Larkin.

    1)  Label every bone and photograph everything so Nigel knows where to put them when Reg gets rebuilt.

    2) Set up a time-lapse camera to record the whole thing:

    (more…)

    Grant Museum starts major project to preserve rarest skeleton in the world

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 November 2014

    This infant chimpanzee  skeleton will be conserved  as part of  Bone Idols

    This infant chimpanzee skeleton
    will be conserved as part of Bone Idols

    Something very exciting has started here at the Grant. We are undertaking a major project to protect 39 of our rarest and most significant skeletons, some which have been on display in the Museum for 180 years. To help achieve this, we launching our first ever public fundraising campaign – aiming to raise £15,000 to support the costs of this crucial work.

    Preserving the rarest skeleton in the world

    The specimens include the rarest skeleton in the world: the extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It is the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The project involves completely dismantling and chemically cleaning the irreplaceable skeleton, and then remounting it on a new skeleton-friendly frame in a more anatomically correct position. The work is intended to secure the long-term preservation of the specimens.

    Protecting the uncollectable

    The quagga will be the focus and most involved element of Bone Idols: Protecting our iconic skeletons, a major project of conservation across the Museum’s displays. Interventions will range from deep cleaning bones, repairing damaged elements and re-casing specimens through to remounting huge skeletons. (more…)

    Name our Rhino on the Run

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 November 2014

    The rhino in the Grant Museum - what's his name?

    The rhino in the Grant Museum – what’s his name?

    The largest single specimen in the Museum – our (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino – is about to go on holiday. He is going away for some serious conservation work. You might call it health tourism.

    The rhino entered the Museum as an un-mounted skeleton in 1910-11 when the University of London Loan Collection was disbanded. The Museum then paid £14 to have him, the seal, the bear and “a zebra” (possibly the quagga) mounted onto iron frames. Since then, the rhino has been on open display in the Museum, and the iron is slowly corroding.

    This year, as part of a major project called Bone Idols: Preserving our Iconic Skeletons, 39 of our largest specimens are undergoing conservation treatment. Some need intensive cleaning to remove the damaging pollutants and particulates that have built up over up to 180 years on open display; some also need repairs to certain body parts. Some, like the rhino and quagga, need to be totally disassembled, cleaned, and then repositioned on new skeleton-friendly metal frames, with all his joints correctly matching up.

    All of this work will allow us to safe-guard our irreplaceable collection for the long-term future and continue to use it every day for teaching, research and public engagement.

    There are two exciting opportunities coming up as a result… (more…)

    Black rhino hunting permit- Why are conservationists supporting it?

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 January 2014

    Last Saturday, 11th January 2014, a permit to hunt a black rhino for sport was sold at a US auction for $350,000. Much of the general public was horrified, and the auction house and associated hunting club subsequently received letters and emails of protest ranging from polite through abusive, to actual death threats.

     

    I for one simply can not understand the mindset of someone who would want to kill such a magnificent animal, and for sport, and that makes it hard for me to see the idea as anything but barbaric. However, is there more to it? Is it really a topic with many more branches to be considered in order for an informed and level-headed decision to be made? The permit was to hunt a black rhino (Diceros bicornis), a species listed as endangered and with only around 5000 individuals left in the wild. It would seem on the surface, a terrible thing to do, and yet many conservationists and specialists believe it to not only be acceptable, but that it will in fact help rhino populations. (more…)

    The time to live life is now

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 November 2013

    As both of my parents worked in travel I guess whether you fall down in the camp of nature or on the side of nurture, eitherway I was probably destined to be a traveller myself. Although I was a late developer in this area, only travelling alone for the first time once at university, I have since clocked up 49 countries and have back of the envelope plans for well over fifty more. As a zoologist and conservationist seeing the natural world first hand is indescribable, though my background also makes me only too aware of the rapidity with which the planet is changing. I don’t just mean animals and the environment, people themselves are changing as well. It is not an uncommon site in Kenya to see Masai tribesmen in the bush wearing traditional red blankets and sandles, and herding goats whilst chatting away on their Nokia. But I feel privileged to have seen them and witnessed their lives and cultures even in this transitional state. In a few years they’ll be wearing GAP t.shirts and Nike trainers, tearing around the bush on quad bikes*. There is simply nothing like seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, being woken up in your sleeping bag by a giraffe munching leaves outside your tent, or being caught in the middle of a capuchin monkey turf war in the Amazon rainforest. (more…)

    Horn vs Antler

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 July 2013

    Bone of contention - is this horn or is this antler? It's horn.

    Bone of contention – is this horn or is this antler?
    Erm… It’s horn.

    There are a few things that get certain zoologists wound up. I’m not talking about extinction and Jeremy Clarkson, I’m talking about relatively meaningless* distinctions that we like to pick up on when people land on the wrong side of  an invisible dichotomy. You can get blood boiling by referring to sabre-toothed “tigers” rather than “cats”; failing to say “non-avian” when referring to extinction of dinosaurs; or describing apes as monkeys (actually that’s technically true as apes evolved from monkeys and the rules of taxonomy therefore require apes to be monkeys). Among such picked-nits is the difference between horns and antlers. If only more people would remember this then fewer zoologists would die prematurely of high blood pressure… (more…)

    A minute’s silence for the Vietnamese Javan rhino

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 25 October 2011

    Skull of a Javan rhinoDear readers,

    It is with a very heavy heart that I bring you the news that the second subspecies of Javan rhino, the Vietnamese Javan rhino, has been driven to extinction thanks to poachers. The third subspecies, the Indonesian Javan rhino, is now the last remaining representative of this entire species. The loss of the population in Vietnam is called a local extinction for the species and means that Vietnam has now lost all of its rhinos. A sad loss of heritage for the people.

    The last individual was found dead, with a bullet hole in its leg and its horn removed.

    Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it is made of keratin, the same material as your finger nails and has been repeatedly scientifically proven to have no medicinal value whatsoever. The rhinos are dying for nothing. (more…)

    Happy World Rhino Day!!!!

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 22 September 2011

    Indian one horned rhino. Jack Ashby, 2008Today is world rhino day everyone- wahooooo!!!! What does that mean?! It’s a day dedicated to celebrating our five species of rhinoceros! There are two species in Africa; the white rhino and the black rhino (though both confusingly only come in grey) and three in Asia; the Sumatran rhino (from Sumatra), the Javan rhino (from Java) and the Indian one horned rhino (from Brazil.) Just kidding. All rhinos are uber cool, though my favourite is the Sumatran rhino. It is the smallest of the five but it sports an awesome hairy coat. Not like a lion, or a wolf, more like a middle aged man who’s got a one way ticket to bald-land. The hair is, shall we say, thinned out, but they are definitely significantly hairier than their other rhino friends and, with their massively tufty ears, are subsequently ridiculously cute! (more…)

    Rhinos, armed robbery and arsenic

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 23 August 2011

    The Animal

    White rhino and young. Photograph by Renaud FulconisLet’s call a spade a spade. If you look at a rhino I mean *really* look at it, go on don’t be shy there’s one right there, it’s a weird looking beast. Its great big head has tiny little eyes and its massive bulk makes it a formidable animal. The most rhino-y feature is of course the horn. A lot of animals have tusks, antlers, or maybe even horns, but no other species stumbling through evolution on a cold Pliocene day thought “I know, I’ll take this horn of mine and pop it onto my nose, hah haaah, that’ll impress the ladies”. No, they are unique. The rhino is a truly remarkable and remarkable looking animal.

     

    So this horn, what’s it all about? Rhino horn is made of keratin. What’s that you say? Look down at the tips of your fingers (or toes if you’d prefer) and (hopefully) you will be looking at some keratin. Some of you may need to remove nail varnish before you can give your keratin a really good inspection. Yes rhino horn is made of the same stuff as finger nails. (more…)