If you were hoping for an uplifting time exploring the natural world at the UK’s Bristol Museum, your trip might be more sobering than you first imagined.
The World Wildlife Gallery is home to a whole host of animal exhibits, including a rhino, tiger, giraffe, chimpanzee and macaw, among many more.
Except from Thursday, the taxidermy animals — most of them over 100 years old — will be markedly different. All 32 exhibits will be cloaked in veils to highlight the seriousness of the wildlife extinction crisis.
A chimpanzee exhibit at Bristol Museum is cloaked in black. Credit: Fay Curtis
That includes one museum favorite, Alfred the Gorilla. The primate’s face is covered to remind visitors that Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered because of poaching, forest loss and human-spread disease.
He lived at Bristol Zoo from 1930 to 1948.
“Alfred has a special place in the hearts of Bristolians. A real celebrity, people came for miles to see him,” Isla Gladstone, senior curator of natural sciences at the museum said. “They would sit and chat to this magnificent animal or dodge the poo he was famous for throwing. Now his home is Bristol Museum, people continue to visit him.”
Alfred is not alone. All the veiled animals are threatened with high to extreme risk of extinction.
Gladstone says the intervention — called ‘Extinction Voices’ — is important now because many people don’t realize the perilous situation these animals are in.
“We met with the wider museum team and came up with the idea of the veils — to help people imagine a world without these creatures, and a visual reference for Victorian dress mourning for their species,” she said.
“For example the giraffe is now at high risk — people think they are common. By veiling them we can help people comprehend the reality and severity of the situation,” she added.
Bristol Museum’s intervention is in response to a landmark report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). In May this year, it revealed that one million species are threatened with extinction because of humans – many within decades.
Another exhibit, a Mountain Gazelle is covered in a black veil. Credit: Fay Curtis
The museum hopes to shine a light on the animals’ stories and plights. With the histories of some of the veiled animals being told for the first time, including the tiger which was shot on a poaching trip by King George V in Nepal, 1911.
It was one of 39 shot dead by the former British monarch with a team of officials. Eighteen rhinos and four sloth bears were also killed during the expedition.
A cloak is placed over a Tortoise at Bristol Museum Credit: Fay Curtis
A black “extinction tree” will also be on show. It will invite visitors to share their own thoughts by writing or drawing on a green leaf to build a shared collection of ideas and actions.
Craig Cheney, deputy mayor of Bristol, said, “We recognize the seriousness of the wildlife extinction crisis and the fact it isn’t too late for us to make a difference.
The wildlife collection at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has a unique role to play by highlighting the crisis through the ‘Extinction Voices’ intervention. We hope it inspires people to think about what we can all do to protect these unique and precious animals.”