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Rain or shine, it's half-term time

Posted by Rose May 25, 2013

As ever, there are heaps of things to do at the Museum over the half-term holidays and you don't even have to come inside the building to enjoy all of them. Just step into the outdoor Sensational Butterflies house and meet 100s of live ones (and it's warm in there), enjoy a coffee or ice cream by the lawn's cafe kiosk, or take a stroll in the lovely Wildlife Garden and its bustling ponds to meet London wildlife among the daisies and buttercups.

 

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Left: An awesome Atlas moth in the butterflies exhibition, snapped by our butterfly house manager. Why not take your own butterfly pics inside the exhibition or at home and enter our Pinterest competition?

 

On Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 2 June, the Wildlife Garden is the focus of our free Bat Festival weekend, which also spreads its wings into the Museum's Darwin Centre for extra displays and talks, so make some plans if you're a batty friend.

 

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Tadpoles, yellow rattle, buttercups and the thriving bee tree in our spring-filled Widlife Garden, which also hosts the Bat Festival on the weekend of 1 to 2 June. Below, batty action at last year's festival.

 

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Inside the Museum, there are over 30 wonderful galleries to explore and the chance to book in advance for the ever-popular Dinosaurs, as well as puppet shows, hands-on activities and investigative fun. Browse our What's on for kids section to get the best recommendations.

 

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Left: Fossil corals display in Dinosaur Way. Right: The roaring jaws of the sabre-tooth cat in the Extinction exhibition - look out for our 2for1 ticket vouchers for Extinction in the Museum.

 

For more grown-up stimulation, there's a choice of two major ticketed exhibitions, Sebastaio Salgado's Genesis and Extinction. Or you could drop in to one or more of the many free talks in our Attenborough Studio scheduled through the week. Starting Sunday 26 and ending on Wednesday 29 May, the talks include live-links to the Isles of Scilly where the Field work with Nature Live team are accompanying Museum scientists performing their research. The Treasures Cadogan Gallery is also a must for anyone who wants to get to the heart of the Museum in one gallery.

 

Volunteers week, 1 to 7 June, coincides with the half-term holiday break and you can get a look at some of the Indonesian fossil corals volunteers helped to prepare for research in a new display cabinet in Dinosaur Way. Or take the lift up to the Specimen Preparation Area in the Cocoon on 30 May to see our new volunteers actually at work.

 

Keep up to date with our What's on and What's on for kids pages.

Find out more about volunteering at the Museum

Read the Wildlife Garden blog

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Great auk, great loss

Posted by Rose May 15, 2013

May is the month for remembering the greatness of the great auk and why its tale of extinction is one we should not forget. The flightless great auk, Pinguinus impennis, is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species was driven extinct in the 19th century as a consequence of centuries of intense human exploitation.

 

At a free talk here tomorrow afternoon, Museum scientist Robert Prys-Jones will explore the Life and Death of the Great Auk, with particular reference to the Museum's own iconic Papa Westray great auk specimen.

 

This celebrated Museum specimen, shown below left, is the only British example of this bird in existence. It was collected 200 years ago in May 1813 from the tiny island of Papa Westray, one of the outer Orkney Islands. The great auk talk is being webcast live for those of you who can't make it here to the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

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Left: The Museum's rare Papa Westray great auk.
Right: Specially commissioned great auk taxidermy model on show in our Extinction exhibition.

 

I spoke to our bird curator Jo Cooper before she set out for the great auk bicentenary festival being held in the Orkney Islands this weekend, 17-19 May. She explained a bit about the history of our treasured great auk specimen and the importance of the festival.

 

'I’m making a pilgrimage to the tiny island of Papa Westray where one of the Museum’s most iconic specimens was collected 200 years ago this month. The Papa Westray Great Auk was one of the last of its kind in Britain, and is the only known surviving British example of this bird which went globally extinct in the mid-1840s.

 

'The Papa Westray specimen was purchased by the British Museum in 1819, after its original owner, William Bullock, sold up his entire vast collection of natural history specimens and other curios in a sale lasting 26 days.'

 

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Fowl Craig on the island of Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, home of the last British great auks. A pilrimage to this spot takes place during the great auk festival this weekend.

'Sadly, our rare specimen is now too fragile to travel safely, so the Museum and Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films have produced a 3D ‘virtual’ Papa Westray Great Auk so that people can still have an encounter with this historic specimen. The virtual auk will be premiered on the island that the original specimen came from, but we have plans to show it more widely later in the year.

 

'We hope that by helping tell the story of the Papa Westray Great Auk during this festival, people will have a greater understanding and appreciation of what has been lost forever from our British bird community and perhaps this will inspire a greater care of what we have.'

 

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You can discover more about the great auk's plight in our Extinction exhibition here at the Museum and get close to a specially-commissioned taxidermy model of a great auk diving. Or go on a Museum trail and find another great auk specimen on display (left) in our Treasures Cadogan Gallery.

 

Follow The Life and Death of the Great Auk webcast live

 

Visit the Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition

 

Discover more about the great auk on our website

 

Read about the Papa Westray great auk in our Treasures book

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Extinction's tigers wake-up call

Posted by Rose May 10, 2013

Tune in to Channel 4's Sunday Brunch programme this weekend between 9.30 and 12.00, to catch the Museum's Richard Sabin discussing a rare Tasmanian tiger specimen which he'll be showing the presenters, Tim and Simon.

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The last Tasmanian tiger pictured here died in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania in 1936.

As Collections Manager of Vertebrates at the Museum, Richard will be highlighting the importance and scientific relevance of our collections to extinction and conservation research and discussing our Extinction exhibition.

 

The Tasmanian tiger, also known as the Tasmanian wolf or thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus, is thought to have become extinct in 1936 - the last-known animal lived in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania. It's probable that humans contributed to this Australian marsupial's decline, but the precise reasons for its extinction are not certain.

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Richard Sabin, Collections Manager of Vertebrates, with one of his favourite zoological specimens - now a star attraction in the Treasures Cadogan Gallery - Guy the gorilla that is, not Richard!

 

Richard will also be talking about other exhibits and themes in the Extinction exhibition. One of the focal points of the exhibition is, of course, tiger conservation (Panthera tigris). With less than 5,000 left in the wild, this is an emotive subject, and one that many of us feel strongly about.

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Extinction exhibition's central display: a tiger and cub, with confiscated tiger fur coat.

 

So far, in the exhibition's tiger conservation poll, 68% of visitors have voted 'yes we should save the tiger,' while 26% have voted 'no, we should focus on another species,' and only 6% chose 'maybe, but only if it doesn't cost too much.'  What do you think? Leave a comment below.

 

If you don't catch the programme, it is likely to be on Channel 4's online player, 4oD, but there is also the exhibiiton to visit here and a series of special extinction-related free talks too. The next of these is on Monday, 13 May, and highlights Earth's Biggest Mass Extinction at 14.30. We'll be webcasting Thursday's The Life and Death of the Great Auk so you can watch that one from the comfort of your own home or during an early afternoon coffee break at work.

 

Other guests on the Sunday Brunch programme include former Spice Girl Mel C and comedians Danny Wallace and Jason Manford.

 

Find out more about the Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition

 

Browse our Recent extinctions web pages

 

Conservation projects and videos

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The weather looks set to be fine for the May bank holiday weekend, so why not head down to the south coast where you can join our scientists and other festival-goers at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival?

 

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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, 3-5 May, full of fossil discoveries, arts, entertainment and coastal treasures. Select all images to enlarge.

 

The 8th annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival on Dorset's renowned Jurassic coast is taking place from 3 to 5 May. The theme of this year's festival is 'Coastal Treasures' and as well as the fossil displays and talks, there is an abundance of entertainment for all ages. Perhaps a toe or two will be dipped in the sea too...

 

 

Get a glimpse of the experience in the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival's video

 

A big team of our scientists and learning staff have already set off for Lyme - we are regular partners of the event - and they will be setting up stalls in the Grand Marquee's Fossil Fair, which is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

 

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Mapping the Lyme rocks the mobile way on a coastal walk.

 

Among the intriguing specimens the scientists will display and discuss are ammonites, fish, sharks and a replica Baryonyx skull. They will join many others on fossilteering walks on the beaches and be leading hands-on activites like sieving for sharks' teeth, identifying visitors' fossil finds, and revealing the wonders of the 407-million-year-old Rhynie Chert rock deposit.

 

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Museum specimens on display this year: Fish and shark specimens found in Lyme Regis (left). Ammonite 'death assemblage', a common fossil found in Lyme Regis (right).

 

Nearer home in South Kensington, we're linking up live on video to the festival in our free Nature Live fossil talks in the Attenborough Studio on both Saturday and Sunday (12.30 and 14.30) if you're visiting the Museum.

 

There is, of course, a vast array of incredible fossils in the Museum itself, but specially look out for Fossils from Britain gallery, the Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery and our Earth Lab on your next visit.