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Wildlife Conservation and the Museum

The Changing Face of Wildlife Conservation at the Powell-Cotton Museum. 

"The wonderful Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent, using century-old specimens for 21st century conservation education"  Ian Redmond OBE

PERCY POWELL-COTTON'S CONTRIBUTION TO SCIENCE (1866-1940) 

The animals and objects on display at the Powell-Cotton Museum may not have changed for many decades, but what we know about them has. When Percy Powell-Cotton hunted and collected animals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries he believed he was making a contribution to science through the discovery of new species and the collection of a wide variety of specimens. Equally, when he collected everyday items from the people he met on his travels, he felt he was capturing a world that would soon be lost.

In particular, Powell-Cotton helped advance our scientific understanding of the wildlife of Africa. From his earliest expeditions he was a meticulous record keeper. Through his diaries, photography and film, letters, and associated notes we know the specific details of nearly every animal and object collected. The animals were identified, measured for height, girth, length and weight, and the location where they were shot recorded along with latitude, longitude and occasionally altitude.

He discovered fifty-two new species, some of which are named after him in recognition of his contribution. Percy Powell-Cotton didn’t just collect, but also presented his findings to important scientific institutions. He spoke at meetings of the Royal Geographic Society and published articles in anthropological publications such as Man and The African Society.

THE MUSEUMS CONTRIBUTION TO CONSERVATION TODAY

Today the Powell-Cotton Museum continues the legacy of its founder; carrying on his interest in the study of African society and natural science and helping others contribute to the study and preservation of Africa’s wildlife.  During your visit to the museum you might meet some of our visiting researchers and wildlife conservationists whose research is not only making valuable contributions to the conservation of the world’s most endangered species but who are also looking at how we protect all our wildlife, hopefully avoiding the future endangerment of other much loved animals.

Scientists from across the world come to the Powell-Cotton Museum to study animal skeletons, skins and other artefacts as well as analysing the vast amount of data recorded by Percy Powell-Cotton during his expeditions. In this way the animals Powell-Cotton hunted and brought back to the museum, to show the diversity of the world around us, are now being used to preserve future generations of animals in the wild.

TODAY’S CONSERVATION CHALLENGES

Wildlife is under siege like at no other time in our history: Elephants are being poached at an unprecedented rate for their ivory and rhinos are being slaughtered to extinction for their horn. Big cat numbers are plummeting due to over-hunting and a decline in their food sources because of habitat loss and the exploding human population means that communities are increasingly living side by side with nature, often in conflict, as animal and human populations fight for land and resources on which to live. Often people are given neither the ability nor incentive to protect the animals around them. If we are to conserve our world’s declining biodiversity, we need to start acting now.

The study of the museum’s bush baby collections has allowed researchers to understand their habitats and recognise the dangers of habitat destruction. This has led to the creation of special reserves for the protection of the species. By utilising the data and artefacts in our museum, the genetic story of the black rhino is being unravelled, helping to improve the success of captive black rhino breeding programmes and the reintroduction of the species back to the wild.

Our primate collection is regarded as one of the most important in the world and is used by many scientists to investigate how their diet affects their bones. This has helped conservationists manage changing environmental pressures - changes often brought about by human intervention such as logging - in order to conserve primates.

Creating a balance between people and animals that live in close proximity requires us to offer support to the people who live alongside them, as well as the animals themselves. In the museum gift shop we stock crafts made by communities in Africa who are living in areas considered wildlife destinations. By providing an outlet through which these communities can trade and make a living, we hope to eliminate the need for poaching, which is often carried out in order to make money and feed families.

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