Last week saw the announcement of a new carnivore on the block, the rather adorable olinguito. This little South American mammal is the first carnivore to have been discovered for 35 years and demonstrates the importance of museum collections… in case we needed any convincing!
As you may have read, the olinguito was discovered by Dr Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution after he saw some mysterious specimens preserved in the collections of the Field Museum in Chicago. After lots of careful study of the skins and skulls, Dr Helgen realised that these animals had gone unidentified for centuries. Since then he has successfully seen and photographed the cute creature in its Andean habitat. But, as highlighted by the Observer newspaper, if the museum’s collections had not been carefully maintained, we may never have known of the existence of this raccoon relative in the first place.
The UK’s natural history collections are currently facing a serious threat. With specialist curators becoming almost as rare as the olinguito itself, specimens across the country are at risk of rapid decay and damage. To discuss current difficulties and create some solutions, we’re holding a one day seminar here at the Museum of Natural History on 20th November. ‘Crap in the Attic?’, as it has been amusingly named, is intended to help professionals to maintain, use and explore their collections in a sustainable way.
If your institution has a natural history collection, and you’re based within a couple of hours’ travel from Oxford, why not join us? You never know, it might help you to uncover the next new species hidden in your attic!
Rachel Parle, Education Officer