Tough job ahead to remove taxidermied animal from Canterbury Museum

Paul Scofield with the elephant that has been stuck in a Canterbury Museum storage room since the...
Paul Scofield with the elephant that has been stuck in a Canterbury Museum storage room since the 1960s. Photo: Geoff Sloan
It is hoped Canterbury Museum’s redevelopment will remove an elephant in the room which has been held captive since the 1960s.

In a cramped corner of one of the museum’s storerooms is a taxidermied elephant, weighing in at about 540kg. But it is so big, it has become stuck.

Canterbury Museum senior curator of natural history Dr Paul Scofield said the elephant was first displayed in 1878 and put in storage in the early 1960s.

Modifications to the storeroom some years ago mean it can not be moved without removing the roof or the floor of the attic it is in.

Said Scofield: “The museum’s elephant has suffered greatly from the ravages of time. It has been in storage since the early 1960s.

In the late 1960s, a family of possums got into its storeroom through a hole in the roof and tore a hole in the elephant’s straw-filled stomach to make their nest.”

The February 22, 2011, earthquake nearly destroyed the elephant, but its frame has been reinforced and it is awaiting restoration.

It is hoped it will be once again put on display if the museum’s redevelopment proposal receives resource consent.

The elephant was brought to Christchurch by museum founder Julius Haast, who purchased its treated skin with funds he made by selling moa bones.

In 1877, Haast employed the famed Austrian taxidermist Andreas Reischek to mount the elephant skin on a frame of iron, wood and clay.

The museum is proposing a $195 million redevelopment of its Rolleston Ave site, needed to protect its heritage buildings, the 2.3 million objects in its collection and upgrade its visitor facilities.

The museum building is also in dire need of repair.

Cracks in the structure mean pests can get in, there is no air conditioning or insulation and the temperature and humidity can not be controlled. The building also leaks in places when it rains.

The consultation period for the redevelopment proposal has closed. The city council will now decide whether to grant resource consent for the redevelopment based on feedback from the public. Additional funding also needs to be secured before the project goes ahead.

 

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