City mu­seum a trea­sure trove of sam­ples

Pur­pose is to col­lect, con­serve, pre­serve and ed­u­cate vis­i­tors about the nat­u­ral world

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - KHO­MOTSO MA­BELANE

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.

PIC­TURES: THO­BILE MATHONSI

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.

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