“That’s a pike. I don’t like pikes. They’re bitey but not tasty.” (American tourist couple overheard at the local public aquarium.)
At a kid’s grave you leave toys and teddys. What do you leave at your dog’s final resting place? Tennis balls of course!
Trench dogs. Proper canine war heroes dead of exhaustion after pulling 40 wounded men off of a battlefield. Pups having been too brave in the Paris traffic. Also some cats. And a horse. A chicken even. Yes. And a monkey.
These are dead animals interred at Paris’ Le Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. Or – as my girlfriend told the Über driver – le cimetière des wouf-wouf.*
I try to visit at least one graveyard on each trip when travelling. Usually I end up on war cemeteries, like Arlington or Douaumont, but sometimes something special shows up, like Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery. Or this.
This. This is peculiar. The place is silly and sombre at the same time. A completely over-the-top thunder storm set the mood when we visited (at what was probably much the same time as I was admiring the tomb of Bibi the Bichon Frise, a lighting strike at another Paris park electrocuted eleven children at a birthday party. Jeesh).
An old, deaf cat lady at the cemetery who obviously couldn’t hear the thunder still felt something thunder-y in the generel atmosphere and tried seeking my advice on whether to take shelter. My French being limited to mispronounced high school-Victor Hugo-highlights, I tried hand-signalling, failed miserably and took a taxi to the Deyrolle taxidermy showroom where I fell in love with a stuffed platypus valued at €22.500.
Backstory: My girlfriend tried ordering an Über for us, but the driver who obviously hadn’t heard of this place before refused to believe there was such a thing as a dog cemetery in Paris. So when my girlfriend was tired of repeating “Cimetière des Chiens” to a man who seemingly thought she was trying to say something else, she decided to drive the point home by barking at him.
Moving a museum collection, animal by animal.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Super… moose? Nah. Just a regular, stuffed Eurasian elk, lifted out of a third story window down to a waiting lorry.
This, of course, is not part of the animal’s normal migration pattern, but a necessity due to the renovation of the Natural History Collections at the University Museum of Bergen.
The moving of mice and moose, this exodus of elephants, took place October last year. I was hired to document the strange odyssey for the museum and followed the crew for a couple of curious days, as 60 large, stuffed animals of various condition were crane-lifted out of the museum and driven away for temporary storage.
The thing is, however, that nobody really knows how temporary this exile of the animals will be. As of now, the restoration is on hold due to lack of funding. In the last state budget, no money were allocated for this purpose. These days the museum is just empty. The halls are quiet, no work being done.
And the moose is missed.
(Last week the museum invited me back to make a new series of photographs. These were the subject of my last blog post: The Empty Museum.)
There used to be animals here. Wolves and elephants, moose and mice, beavers, birds and bears. Stuffed but wondrous. Ragged, scruffy, dusty and old. And beloved. Now there are none.
The Natural History Museum was one of the most popular museums in Bergen. It was built for a different time, for a different crowd, valuing wonder and mood over educational aspects. It was one of very few museums not yet ruined by forced modernization. Display cabinets had yet to be supplanted by fancy tech. Dust and lack of light were essential parts of the experience. It was a museum’s museum.
But the same age that lent the exhibitions their quaint qualities had also taken its toll on the objects and the animals. Seeing minimal upkeep since it first opened its doors for the general public in 1867, the museum was in dire need of maintenance. Large parts of the collection risked unrepairable damage unless the building itself was restored. Beginning a few years ago, one million museum items were catalogued, sanitized and moved to external magazines. The museum closed to the public. A 600m NOK restoration project, spanning several years, was underway. The reopening was scheduled for 2018. Then the money stopped.
In the last state budget, no money were allocated to the restoration project. The closing was meant to be temporary. But when the museum will open now is anybody’s guess.
(See the animals leave the museum in the blog post “The Great Migration”)
A hundred years ago today Martha died. She was a passenger pigeon and the last of her kind, the final living specimen of a race of birds once so numerous that their flocks would black out the sky for hours on end.
(And commemorating her, here are my photographs of zoo enclosures without animals.)
Extinction is natural. Species go extinct every day. But few species go extinct with such catastrophic vehemence as did the passenger pigeons.
When the Europeans arrived in the new world, there were billions of them – but not evenly distributed. No, they traversed the continent in a few enormous flocks. One flock observed in Canada in 1866 was said to count 3.5 billion birds. That one flock would have been 1.5 kilometres wide and over 500 kilometres long. And it would have darkened the sky for 14 hours or so. But even at that point the species had been in steady decline for over half a century. The decline was slow at first, but from 1870 to 1890 it was catastrophic.
Their numbers meant they were easily hunted. One double barrel blast of a shotgun could net even an amateur 60 birds. When pigeon meat was commercialised as cheap food for the poor, hunting became a massive and mechanised effort. Birds by the tens of millions were killed in the Midwest and shipped east on trains.
Combined with habitat loss as European settlers hellbent on manifest destiny deforested vast areas of land, the birds who only laid one egg at a time couldn’t make it. In March 1900, an Ohio-boy names Press Clay Southworth killed a bird with a BB gun. That bird was the last recorded wild passenger pigeon. A few still survived in captivity. But on September 1, 1914, the very last died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Here’s to Martha.
These photographs are from San Diego Zoo, carefully framed not to show the animals.