- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - On the five public floors of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, visitors can view 396 specimens of preserved animals and dinosaur bones.

But there are another 117,703 museum artifacts they can’t see, and - with few exceptions - never will.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1p1nAcG ) reports while the items include some books and artwork, the vast majority are animals - fossil remains from eons past and preserved specimens of animals that still walk the earth, said Karen Morton, the collections manager.

Morton is in charge of cataloging and housing the specimens at three sites in Dallas: the old museum facilities in Fair Park, the basement of the new museum and an unmarked warehouse near the Dallas Design District.

There, almost every square foot of the floor, walls and shelves is crowded.

If you’re thinking of donating grandpa’s stuffed deer head in the attic, don’t.

“We’re full. The rooms are full,” Morton said. “Really, we don’t have space for anything more.”

The stuffed specimens range from an extinct passenger pigeon to the we-only-wish-they-were-extinct grackle.

“Our mission is to preserve the diversity of all Texas wildlife,” said Ron Tykoski, who also manages the collection, explaining why someone would safeguard a dead grackle.

The rows of stuffed birds and predators represent an earlier era in natural history museums. Since the 1970s, museum visitors and staff are more likely to be interested in a pachyrhinosaurus skeleton than in a stuffed polar bear.

Tykoski, a staff paleontologist, said the specimens - though unlikely to be exhibited in the museum’s public spaces - are an important part of the Perot’s scientific mission.

In fact, that importance has recently grown.

“At one time, these were considered white elephants. Museums were chucking them away,” Tykoski said. “But scientists have found that even taxidermied animals retain some genetic material that can be used for research.”

Retaining multiple examples of a species - the collection has 508 warbler specimens - allows researchers to study variations within a population. The range of decades represented among the collection’s specimens also ensures that some came from habitats that have long since vanished.

“We’re caretakers of research resources,” Tykoski said. “They’ve lasted for decades, and we have to see they last for decades more.”

Some people have ideas for other uses.

“We get some strange requests,” he said. “Someone calls and says ‘We’re having a party’ and wants to know if they can borrow our passenger pigeon. The answer is no.”

That wasn’t always the case.

On the floor of the museum warehouse is a stuffed lion, posed in mid-pounce.

Decades ago, Tykoski said, museum officials lent the lion to a sporting goods store.

It came back with a broken tail and with claws removed by souvenir seekers.

“It’s good to keep things like this on hand, to show people why we have higher standards now,” he said.

Some specimens are more than a century old. The oldest - a snow bunting - dates to 1885. Acquisitions in both the bird and mammal collections tapered off after the 1970s, when, in addition to the museum’s shifting interests, laws were changed to give surviving animals greater protection.

Before then, however, birds were often shot or captured by nets, and most of the large mammals were brought down by big game hunters.

“Back then it was OK. There were not regulations or ethical concerns about killing rare animals,” Morton said.

Many of the museum’s moose-head specimens, in fact, once hung on the library walls of private homes. A particularly gruesome tableau of a crocodile seizing a small African antelope once graced a donor’s living room.

New items are sometimes added. The museum’s curator, Tony Fiorello, who does paleontological research in Alaska, recently accepted the donation of a stuffed musk ox.

But other offers are likely to be refused.

“People call us up with roadkill or birds that the dog brought in,” Morton said. “We just tell them, ‘No, thanks.’”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com



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