Museum of Zoology reopens to the public following £4.1million redevelopment

PUBLISHED: 10:57 23 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:51 23 June 2018

Paul Brakefield, professor of zoology and director of the Museum of Zoology, with Helen Wilson from HLF, at the refurbished museum. Picture: Keith Heppell

Paul Brakefield, professor of zoology and director of the Museum of Zoology, with Helen Wilson from HLF, at the refurbished museum. Picture: Keith Heppell

Iliffe Media Ltd

See ice age sloth, a dodo skeleton and the ‘Feathers of Moa’ at University of Cambridge attractiona

Natalie Jones with the latest exhibtion piece which she uncovered in a black bin bag, which had been frozen for nearly 40 years. Picture: Keith HeppellNatalie Jones with the latest exhibtion piece which she uncovered in a black bin bag, which had been frozen for nearly 40 years. Picture: Keith Heppell

The University of Cambridge’s refurbished Museum of Zoology has reopened to the public following a five-year, £4.1million redevelopment.

The museum opened its doors today (Saturday) following a private visit yetserday from Sir David Attenborough, who laid the final specimen in place.

Nearly half the money for the refurbishment has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The museum holds one of the largest and most important natural history collections in the UK, and has a rich history dating back to 1814.

Ed Turner, curator of the insect displays, looks at one of his 'pets' which is now on display. Picture: Keith HeppellEd Turner, curator of the insect displays, looks at one of his 'pets' which is now on display. Picture: Keith Heppell

Museum director Paul Brakefield, who joined in 2010, said: “We are extremely proud of this new museum. It’s a museum that has entered the 21st century.

“It’s up to us now to show off the specimens from our collections to as wider public as we possibly can. Reopening is only the beginning and we’ve now got to make the most of the wonderful opportunities that we’ve been given to have a state-of-the-art modern natural history museum.

“I will be very disappointed if in a year’s time we aren’t able to show that not only have we had many more visitors but we’ve had a much wider diversity of visitors.”

Over 200 years, the museum has amassed an impressive collection encompassing about two million objects, which includes more than one million insects!

The refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith HeppellThe refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith Heppell

During the refurbishment, the collection had to be moved to temporary storage, their condition checked, and returned to the displays or the gleaming new stores.

The displays include many extinct creatures, including an ice-age sloth that stood as tall as a giraffe and a diprotodon, an extinct cousin of the wombat that was as big as the rhinoceros.

Visitors to the museum will also meet one of the world’s most complete dodo skeletons, a flamingo which had been in a freezer for more than 30 years and Cambridge’s largest resident – a 21 metre (69ft) skeleton of a fin whale.

But it’s fair to say visitors might wonder why staff are so excited by a plain-looking frame containing 30 dull brown feathers, discovered during the redevelopment.

Scientists are convinced the faded label, which reads ‘Feathers of Moa’, is correct and the feather are the remains of huge flightless birds, some standing three metres tall, that were hunted to extinction more than 600 years ago after Polynesian people settled in New Zealand.

Stuart Turner, a technician, found the feathers at the back of an old cupboard, read the faded label, and took them to the curators. If a DNA test confirms the feathers are indeed of the moa, they will be a significant addition to the global collection, and could help us understand more about these extinct giants.

As well as the giants, the new displays shine a light on the wealth of insects, molluscs and other invertebrates that make up the bulk of animal life on earth today.

Curator Ed Turner, whose own former pet Malayan jungle nymph stick insect makes one of the displays, said: “It’s quite unusual in museums to get the little things really well represented. We’re incredibly proud here to have a huge number of insects on display illustrating the diversity of insect life and also more about why they’re important, how diverse they are, and what they do in natural and human-modified ecosystems – a bit more about their ecology and biology and why insects are the little things that run the world.”

The refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith HeppellThe refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith Heppell

The new galleries also uncover extraordinary specimens collected by some of the world’s greatest naturalists, including Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin.

The museum shares its home – the David Attenborough Building – with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative: a unique collaboration between the University of Cambridge and leading biodiversity conservation organisations.

Helen Wilson, of the Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “It’s such a special place and full of absolute treasures, some of which you can’t find anywhere else in the world, so it’s a very significant place as well.

“I think it was slightly hidden away before and people didn’t know what a treasure they had on their doorstep. Now people will know and as soon as you walk through the door it’s an exciting place to be. It looks beautiful and you can’t help to engage with it as you walk through the door.

The refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith HeppellThe refurbished Cambridge University Museum Of Zoology. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Thanks to National Lottery players, amazing stories about our natural world are now on display.”

Admission is free. To celebrate the opening, it is running the Zoology Live! Festival, a weekend of free activities on Saturday and Sunday (June 23 and June 24).

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