Mammal collections

three bats in spirit jars

Spirit collection of small mammals, including two Egyptian fruit bats and one striped leaf-nosed bat © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The mammal collection is one of the largest and most taxonomically comprehensive in the world.

With over 70% of currently known mammal species represented in the collection, the mammal collection is a key reference collection for taxonomists and systematists.

The collection has a wide taxonomic and geographical range, many preparations and historical depth and is used by researchers and students from all over the world. On average, we host over 150 visitors per year.

Our collection of modern mammals consists of over 400,000 individual specimens which have been prepared as skins, skulls, skeletons, fluid preserved specimens, subfossil material, taxidermy mounts and models.

In a 2020 collection survey, more than 800,000 different type of preparations of mammal specimens were accounted for.

Over 30,000 of those were fluid preserved material, over 3000 taxidermy mounts, 100 models, 15,000 microscope slides but vast majority were dry collections (skins, skulls, and skeletal material).

The mammal collection includes over 8,000 primary types of mammal species and subspecies making it one the most scientifically important collections in the world of its kind.

Collection history

The first specimens received in the Museum’s mammal collection would have been those in the original collection of Sir Hans Slone, purchased by the nation under his will of 1753, and thus forming the nucleus of the British Museum, however the bulk of the collection is from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

It is in great part thanks to the efforts of Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas encouraging collectors from all over the world to send him specimens during his time in charge of the mammal collections (1878-1923) that the collections grew vastly in numbers.

Thomas was one of the greatest mammal taxonomists of all time, and certainly one of the most prolific publishing over 1,090 papers and proposing over 2.900 new names for mammal taxa. 

Another key figure in the enrichment of this collection, was Sir Sidney Frederic Harmer who through his appointment as first as Keeper of Zoology (1907-1919) and later as director (1919-1927), made the museum a world renown centre for cetacean research and the marine mammal collection one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. 

Geographical range

  • Worldwide: all continents, most islands, all oceans.
  • Significant collections from Africa, Asia, Australasia and Europe.
  • Moderate collections from South America and Indonesia.
  • Small collections from North America. 

Expeditions

  • M. Delany & G. Hopkins collections from Uganda
  • Natural History Museum expedition to Zambia and Malawi
  • University expeditions and collections from several expeditions to Ethiopia by M. Largen, P. Morris and D. Yalden

Looking for a specimen?

The collection is being digitised

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research

Curators

Principal Curator in Charge, Vertebrates

Simon Loader

Senior Curator in Charge

Roberto Portela Miguez

Principal Curator

Richard Sabin

Senior Curator

Paula Jenkins

Senior Curator

Louise Tomsett

Researchers

Anjali Goswami

Natalie Cooper

Travis Park

Arkhat Abzhanov

Scientific Associates

Daphne Hills

Kristoffer Helgen

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.

Collections on the move

We have set out on an ambitious programme to develop a new science and digitisation centre at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire by 2026. As we prepare for the move, access to some collections will be affected.

Find out more and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on changes to collections access, relevant news and opportunities to get involved.