Long-dead Critters Animate Israel’s Nature Museum

The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History places special emphasis on the flora and fauna indigenous to the Holy Land and Middle East

In this Sunday, April 22, 2018 photo, a stuffed deer awaits installation in an exhibition at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel.
A stuffed deer awaits installation in an exhibition at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, April 22, 2018. Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The hyena, pelican and monkey had never met before they were frozen in time in a Noah’s Ark of formaldehyde.

For decades they resided below ground at Tel Aviv University.

The creatures were meticulously labeled and maintained under a steady temperature to preserve them for research purposes.

In this Sunday, June 25, 2017 photo, Tel Aviv University employees carry a stuffed wild boar to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tel Aviv University employees carry a stuffed wild boar to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, June 25, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

But the animals never did appear to be dead in the room with little air or daylight.

They were stuffed into poses taken from the lives they once lived. A bear seemed to prowl the room, as a cheetah looked like it was chasing its prey.

Part of the collection is from German naturalist and Catholic priest Ernst Johann Schmitz, who lived in the Holy Land about a century ago, and it includes animals that are no longer seen in the region.

Last month, the long-dead animals surfaced — reincarnated as exhibits at Israel’s new natural history museum, which is set to open in July.

In this Sunday, July 16, 2017 photo, a stuffed lion, later to be displayed, is stored in the collections storeroom of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel. For decades the specimens resided below ground at Tel Aviv University. The creatures were meticulously labeled and maintained under a steady temperature to preserve them for research purposes.
A stuffed lion, later to be displayed, is stored in the collections storeroom of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, July 16, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

The ultra-modern ark-shaped edifice is set alongside the university campus and houses over 5.5 million specimens of species from around the globe.

But the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History places special emphasis on the flora and fauna indigenous to the Holy Land and Middle East.

The museum’s curators say the institution — ticketed as the only natural history research center in the Middle East — aims to raise public awareness about the natural world and environment by highlighting both the country’s ecological diversity at the crossroads of three continents, and the devastation wrought by modern development.

The museum’s single exhibit on human evolution is situated on the top floor, allowing any visitors who may find the subject objectionable for religious reasons to easily bypass it.

Associated Press photographer Oded Balilty was granted access to the animal storeroom ahead of the museum’s opening. Here are his impressions.

In this Sunday, April 22, 2018 photo, items from the Ernst Johann Schmitz collection are displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel. Schmitz lived in the Holy Land about a century ago and gathered animals that are no longer seen in the region.
Items from the Ernst Johann Schmitz collection are displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, April 22, 2018.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Tuesday, Sept 5, 2017 photo, exhibition designers carry a stuffed hyena to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel. For decades the specimens resided below ground at Tel Aviv University. The creatures were meticulously labeled and maintained under a steady temperature to preserve them for research purposes.
Exhibition designers carry a stuffed hyena to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Sept 5, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Thursday, June 22, 2017 photo, a Tel Aviv University employee carries a stuffed wolf to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel.
A Tel Aviv University employee carries a stuffed wolf to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Sunday, Nov 5, 2017 photo, taxidermist Igor Gavrilov works on a stuffed orangutan to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Taxidermist Igor Gavrilov works on a stuffed orangutan to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Nov 5, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 photo, a girl looks at taxidermy specimens in the collections storeroom of Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel. For decades the specimens resided below ground at Tel Aviv University. The creatures were meticulously labeled and maintained under a steady temperature to preserve them for research purposes.
A girl looks at taxidermy specimens in the collections storeroom of Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Oct 5, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Sunday, July 27, 2017 photo, taxidermist Igor Gavrilov works on a stuffed wolf to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Ttaxidermist Igor Gavrilov works on a stuffed wolf to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, July 27, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
In this Monday, Oct 23, 2017 photo, exhibition designers hold a giraffe skull to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Exhibition designers hold a giraffe skull to be displayed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, Oct 23, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

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