Above: Blaze survivors: the National Museum’s website shows a small selection of specimens in the bird collection, from the two largest flying species, the Andean condor and albatross, to hyacinth macaw. The annex building and the Botanical Gardens escaped the fire. Photo: National Museum of Brazil


AMID THE TRAGIC destruction of Brazil’s 200-year-old historical and scientific National Museum, its magnificent taxidermy collection of more than 50,000 Brazilian birds has escaped fire damage.

As reported to Cage & Aviary Birds by regular contributor Rosemary Low, on September 2 Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum perished in a blaze.

Ms Low said: “When I heard the natural history collection was housed there, I contacted my friend Professor Dr Luís Fábio Silveira, curator of collections of the Zoological Museum of the University of Sao Paulo. He was able to confirm the birds were in a separate building and undamaged.”

The bird specimens were among two million items to survive out of 20 million books and exhibits in the museum’s collection. But the cultural and scientific loss remains a catastrophe of national proportions, says the curator.

Dr Silviera commented that this is an “unprecedented tragedy”. He said: “Millions of specimens turned to ashes. The exhibitions, fossils, the oldest human in the Americas, insects, all collections of ethnology, anthropology, historical files of history of Brazil… everything. Thousands of objects belonging to extinct tribes, all gone.”

The fire is being blamed on an austerity programme after the nation’s worst-ever recession.

The museum’s maintenance budget had not been received in full since 2014, with reports of exposed wires and flaking paint. A R$5 million package to mark the museum’s 200th anniversary was due to kick in next month. 

The museum’s vice director Cristiana Serejo said that it had planned to install fire protections: “People were conscious of how fragile the museum was, but we didn’t have time.”

A statement on the National Museum’s website reads: “We would like to thank the people of Rio de Janeiro and people from all over the world who are sending so many thousands of messages and expressions of support to the National Museum. 

“We would also like to thank the support of the Ministry of Education that yesterday [September 3], announced the release of R$10 million for the adoption of emergency measures for the security of the Palace headquarters of the National Museum and R$5 million for the elaboration of executive project of recovery of the Museum.”

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