City museum a treasure trove of samples
Purpose is to collect, conserve, preserve and educate visitors about the natural world
IN THE heart of the capital between the bustling city streets is a museum housing the largest collection of beetles in southern Africa, not to mention the fossils that chart the planet’s natural history.
The Ditsong National Museum of Natural History has a collection of fossils, skeletons, skins and mounted specimens of amphibians, fish, invertebrates, reptiles and mammals.
The museum’s educational programmes are based on these collections and research is done.
“The purpose of this museum is to collect, conserve and preserve as well as to educate South Africans about their heritage,” said director in chief Bona Nyawuose.
The museum also boasts the Austin Roberts Bird Hall, the Geosciences museum and a Discovery Centre.
The bird hall is named after zoologist Dr Austin Roberts. It consists of various types of bird species which were mostly collected by him.
The hall houses more than 870 different southern African birds and some of the exhibits are interactive so you can hear different bird calls.
Two of the books written by Roberts, including every birder’s handbook, Birds of Southern Africa, are on display, as well as the honorary doctorate he received from the University of Pretoria in 1935.
The Geosciences museum has various displays, including specimens of the various minerals. Visitors, and scholars in particular, get to see minerals like copper in its natural state before it is refined and turned into a final product like wire.
Keeping the exhibits relative to modern-day life, some of the other minerals include apatite which is used in producing detergents, fertilisers and matches; fluoride used in toothpaste; and chromite used in the production of stainless steel.
Then there is the Discovery Centre which provides a handson experience for children.
The foyer, with its elephant, is no less imposing than the sandstone facade and hints at what the interior of the museum holds. The animal is so big that it could not be mounted inside one of the halls.
The halls detail how life started in scientific terms, from the age of dinosaurs to the evolution of man. There are reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish and mammals.
This museum is a wonderful educational experience as everything on display is classified according to respective kingdoms, classes, and species.
This is of great help to the museum’s visitors, who are mostly schoolchildren.
Below the museum is a library, office space and collection rooms where different species of animals are kept.
Audrey Ndaba, a curator at the museum who works in the insect classification section, says the museum has the largest collection of beetles in southern Africa. The collection rooms are also used as a reference by other researchers like retired entomologist Dr Antony Postle of Australia.
“It is a precious thing to have international researchers comparing their information using what we have here in South Africa” said Ndaba.
Nyawuose said of the money provided by the government to fund the museum, only 15 percent goes towards the facility itself. The other 85 per- cent goes to salaries.
However, with financial help from organisations like the SA Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, and the National Research Foundation, the museum is able to keep running and preserving the nation’s natural heritage.
LARGER THAN LIFE: A fin whale skeleton outside the Ditsong Natural History Museum.
HONOUR: The Bird Hall named after late zoologist Dr Austin Roberts.
VAST: Goliath beetles, one of many species housed here.