Today I spent the day at the Discovery Centre in Leeds. The centre is a huge warehouse containing social history, archaeology and natural history collections.
I met up with curator of natural history Clare Brown, conservation intern Emily, conservator Emma and fellow curatorial trainee Ben Lawrence. We spent the morning topping up spirit collections. The collections are kept in small tubes within a larger jar filled with alcohol. Some of the alcohol had evaporated from both the tube and the jar so it was our task to top them up using a solution of 20% distilled water and 80% alcohol. At one point I found two mollusca paratypes in a sealed plastic bag and put them into a new tube with their labels.
After lunch Clare gave me a tour of the discovery centre and we discussed the issues surrounding CITES related material. The Discovery Centre is near Leeds Airport, so a lot of animals are smuggled through or seized from people coming back into the country. These become property of the crown, though the museum looks after them. Seized CITES material is often used to educate people about endangered species so a few specimens such as these birdwing butterflies are on display on racks and shown to schools. Seeing so many of these specimens together really brings the message home that it is a widespread problem. The Palawan Birdwing, which appears in every single case on this rack is a CITES Appendix II listed species. It is illegal to bring it into this country. It is also illegal to sell them in this country.
I have seen markets in London that sell Palawn Birdwings. If you see them, please don’t buy them! Not only is it illegal but you are perpetuating the demise of a threatened species.
Other specimens that have been seized are a large number of parrots that someone attempted to smuggle into the country. Sadly, all the parrots were dead and one of the cockatoos had plucked its chest feathers out- a sign of stress.
The parrots are now study skins and like the Palawan Birdwings used to educate people about endangered species.
There are also quite a few taxidermied parrots in the stores,most of which have been worked on by the taxidermist James Dickinson. His stuff is amazing. Often dead birds that have been mangled are given to him and he repairs them so well it looks as if they never had a scratch on them.
Later on, Ben showed me some of the insect collections. We found an amazing cabinet filled with a stunning beetle collection. It was really extensive. Clare has suggested I come back and work with some of the insects as a lot of them need labelling and cleaning. So there you have it! I had a lovely day and learnt more new things. I’ll close this post with some images of that beetle collection: