“That’s a pike. I don’t like pikes. They’re bitey but not tasty.” (American tourist couple overheard at the local public aquarium.)
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.
Hand feeding alligators with marshmallows is a desperate measure to save a species on the brink of extinction due to abrupt changes in the food chain.
Long-term ecological complications from hurricane Katrina have all but decimated many important species of plants in the Louisiana marshlands, severely disrupting the natural food chain. Among the species as good as extinct is the wild marshmallow, the main source of nutrition for the Louisiana alligators. In a desperate measure to save the species, swamp rangers set out to hand feed starving gators with rations of aid marshmallows. As there are an estimated two million gators in Louisiana, this is an arduous and labour-intensive job, demanding large numbers of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of bags of marshmallows every week.
Why not use airdrop you might ask? Well, that would leave most of the marshmallows floating in the swamp waters, like they were windfall. Alligators are accustomed to jumping out of the water and nipping wild marshmallows straight from the branches of the marshmallow tree. A proud gator simply won’t touch soggy marshmallows. Thus the need for human hands tempting the gators like the marshmallows were fresh off the branches, allowing the animals to act on their hunting instincts.
While visiting Louisiana my girlfriend and I felt the obligation to do our part, and joined a party of first time volunteers on a barge set out to distribute aid rations in the Barataria area south of New Orleans. We are proud to say that at least a dozen gators won’t be starving for marshmallows before the weekend at the very least.
Disclaimer: Let’s just quote the great pirate W. Shakespeare: “Do not trusteh all that thou readest on the Interneth.” Alligators are not a threatened species, and I just read that feeding them actually is against Louisiana law. Huh. Seems that our tour guide was breaking the law. Not too surprising really. After reading this article on disaster tourism I must admit a certain distaste for some of the practices of the New Orleans tour industry.
Thousands upon thousands of brilliant creatures don’t exist.
(Goltic is an adjective meaning of or relating to the area known as Golten outside Bergen. It’s a place with rocks, water and sheep)