Exhibits under THREAT

2016-02-03 06:00
PHOTO: supplied Disfunctional air-conditioning have left exhibits in a vulnerable state, most notable cracks in the hides of the elephants, hippo and rhino.

PHOTO: supplied Disfunctional air-conditioning have left exhibits in a vulnerable state, most notable cracks in the hides of the elephants, hippo and rhino.

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DISFUNCTIONAL air-conditioning and fluctuating temperatures have left exhibitions at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in a vulnerable state with the cracking of taxidermy hides a main concern.

Head of exhibitions at the museum Brigette­ Johnson, said that not only are the exhibitions a concern, but also collections in storage.

“The ideal temperature of museum exhibition collections is 18°C to 22°C. Fluctuations in temperature also affect the collections,” she said.

The Maritzburg Fever reporter recently visited the museum and found it hot and stuffy inside and a camel in the main Warren Mammal Hall had started turning green. Museum staff were concerned about the other animals in the exhibition.

“The taxidermy collections in the Warren Mammal Hall are particularly prone to the effects of temperature change. Most notable are the cracks in the hides of the elephants, hippo and rhino.

“However, other taxidermy specimens are also cracking, but are less noticeable due to hair covering the damaged areas. These are also more difficult to repair,” said Johnson.

She added that many of the collections in the Warren Mammal Hall are over 100 years old.

“They were commissioned by the museums first director, Dr Ernest Warren, who was concerned about the rate at which wildlife was being hunted at the time, and saw the need to create­ a collection for education and scientific purposes. Many were created by a German taxidermist, Mr Teschner, using traditional methods that have internal wooden support structures. The wood and leather hides should not be exposed to extreme temperatures.”

Johnson said that museum staff have put an ongoing maintenance and conservation plan in place to address and lessen the damage, however, this is not a long-term solution.

“They will reach a point where they are structurally unsound and beyond repair.

“At that point we would need to consider fibreglass replicas,” she said.

According to Johnson a contractor has been appointed from the Department of Public Works, which owns the building, to address the air-conditioning problem however, until then, the summer heat is a great concern.

“Watching the damage develop, in some cases overnight, to some of the museums most treasured collections is a major concern.
“This is an irreplaceable collection as we are no longer in the business of collecting new specimens and need to look after the collections we have.

“They have survived many years, and given the correct environment and care, could last another 100 years.”

Roshan Maharaj, chief technical officer at the museum said that despite the building having two major air-con plants, one has not been functioning since 17 July, 2015 and the other since 28 September, 2015.

“The National Department of Public Works, Durban have their policies and procedures when appointing service providers.
“This creates major delays, even when the request for work is reported as an emergency. A DPW contractor is now on site,” said Maharaj.

Maharj said that the National Department of Arts and Culture (KZN Museum is a public entity of the department) ha assisted with funds to have back-up air-con units installed for their critical collections, which are in storerooms.

“These can be managed with the functioning of individual backup air- conditioning units.

“However, the exhibits which are on display­ throughout the open gallery areas are a great challenge because their climate control relies on the central plants.

“A proper maintenance and service plan for the air-con plants are required,” said Maharaj­.

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