Every year, a million visitors stroll through the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution in Paris, admiring its 7,000 or so lifelike taxidermy animals. But under their feet, an even more precious treasure is buried. Amassed over nearly four centuries, collected on every continent, coming from the yields of great explorers such as Bougainville and Dumont d’Urville, enriched each year, this booty conceals several million objects… once alive.
Fish, reptiles, marine invertebrate, mammals and birds: In total, nearly 8 million stuffed or alcohol-preserved specimens are located in the bases of the Jardin des Plantes. This zoological library is part of the famous collections of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN, National Museum of Natural History), which, with 67 million items (animals, plants, minerals and fossils), constitute one of the three richest naturalist collections in the world, after those of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the British Museum in London.
For researchers around the world, these resources are invaluable material for the analysis of biodiversity. It contains some 450,000 reference specimens, which have made it possible to describe their species for the first time and still serve, in taxonomy, as a “standard measure.”
Site operation under threat
But the treasure has become the object of a dispute. Built in the early 1980s, the reserve is overloaded and no longer meets the regulatory criteria for an installation classified for environmental protection (ICPE), its status given the dangers it represents. Hence the plan to move it to another site, suggested in 2019. Management is now advocating for the city of Dijon, a choice contested by a part of the museum’s staff.
AT petition was launched, gathering more than 7,000 signatures as of May 23, to demand “to completely give up this plan and the opening of discussions involving the staff.” How can they carry out a research project built largely on collections if they are located 300 kilometers away, they ask, while admitting “the urgency to find more space, to renovate the premises and improve working conditions, which are very far from hygiene and safety standard.”
“We have constraints,” explained Bruno David, president of the museum. “The zoological library contains volumes of alcohol that exceed the capacity of the retention tanks by 120 cubic meters.” A large number of specimens, in fact, are kept in ethanol, a highly flammable liquid. Moreover, an establishment open to the public, such as the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, is not authorized to be above or near an ICPE. “There is therefore a risk that the Prefecture will prohibit us from operating the site,” added the naturalist.
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