Natural history hero Attenborough opens Extinction exhibition

08 February 2013

Sir David Attenborough was guest of honour at the grand opening of the new Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition last night at the Natural History Museum.

Sir David Attenborough at the opening of Extinction: Not the End of the World?

Sir David Attenborough at the opening of Extinction: Not the End of the World?

A long-standing fan of the Museum, Sir David highlighted the important role museums such as the Natural History Museum play in tackling the big questions facing humans and the natural world. He said of the exhibition, 'It is not only about the past but it's about the future, and the future of course is in our hands.

'If the natural world is destroyed, we destroy ourselves. That is a powerful and practical reason that this exhibition explains'.

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson joined the well-loved television presenter to open the exhibition. ‘This exhibition demonstrates that it is all too easy for us to think that the extinction of a species is a thing of the past, when in fact it is a very real problem today.'

Extinction: Not the End of the World? gets visitors to go beyond dodos and dinosaurs to discover species that prospered in the wake of others’ demise. More than 99% of species that once roamed our planet are now extinct, yet a diverse range of plants and animals survive.

Tiger display in the Museum's Extinction exhibition open 8 Feb -8 Sept 2013.

Tiger display with cub and coat that were confiscated by the Metropolitan Police Service Wildlife Crime Unit.

With striking images, real specimens and interactive installations, the exhibition examines the latest scientific findings and takes a look at today's endangered species, such as the tiger and orang-utan, and the need for their conservation.

Issues explored in the exhibition include: 

Whether we are already in the 6th mass extinction - driven by human impact we are currently witnessing the demise of many species, such as the Baiji river dolphin that probably went extinct in 2006. 

What would a world be like without humans - could we go the same way as the Neanderthal and become Homo extinctus

A horseshoe crab upside down. These animals have survived 4 of Earth's extinctions that wiped out mo

A horseshoe crab upside down. These animals have survived 4 of Earth's major extinctions that wiped out most other species.

Whether or not to conserve animals such as the tiger and orang-utan. And what about other animals who've only recently been discovered but whose habitats are already threatened with extinction like the world's smallest fish, identified by Museum scientists in 2006?

Visitors can also discover some of nature’s ultimate survivors such as the prehistoric looking horseshoe crab that has survived 3 extinctions.

‘Usually people only ever think of dinosaurs and dodos when they talk about extinction. In Extinction: Not the End of the World? visitors will discover the positive side to extinction and that the animals and plants we see today would not have survived if others had not first become extinct,’ says Alex Fairhead, Museum exhibition developer.

Understanding extinction underpins all of the scientific work of the curators and researchers at the Museum and is crucial to discovering more about the evolution of animals and the natural world.

An icon of extinction, the dodo, Raphus cucullatus, was highly successful in its home in Mauritius u

An icon of extinction, the dodo, was highly successful in its home in Mauritius until rats, goats, pigs and monkeys were introduced by sailors.

'Extinction is a natural part of life on Earth – it has shaped and continues to shape the biodiversity that exists on the planet,' explains Museum mammals curator Roberto Portela Miguez who was part of a team that recently discovered a species of echidna, thought to be extinct, but which raises hopes of its existence in Australia. 

‘Many scientists study the role that extinction plays in the evolution of life,' continues Roberto. 

'Specimens of extinct species like those in our collections and on display in the exhibition hold the key to our better understanding of their demise and how life goes on. Research on them highlights the important value of museum collections.'

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The Great Extinctions book

The Great Extinctions book, Norman MacLeod

What are the processes responsible for species extinction? And are we about to cause another mass extinction? Find out in this in-depth guide by Museum expert, Professor Norman MacLeod.

Buy The Great Extinctions book online