Journal Article

  • Wrestling with the Yatiantota Tusker: Cleaning, conserving and mounting an intriguing Asian elephant skeleton
    Larkin, N. R.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 5, pages 98 - 109

    Cambridge University Museum of Zoology underwent refurbishment between 2013 and 2017 as part of a wider redevelopment project. As well as cleaning and conserving the specimens that were already on display, the opportunity was taken to conserve, remount and re-display some specimens from the collections that had been in storage for years. The most significant and problematic of these was the skeleton of a large male Asian elephant. The specimen has an interesting history, having killed many people in Sri Lanka before being shot in 1881, and in the 1960s the skeleton was used as set-dressing for an iconic science fiction film. The bones were successfully cleaned using Synperonic A7 in deionised water, with acetone added as required for the grimiest areas. The metalwork for the skeleton had been missing for decades, so a new mount had to be made from scratch. This involved a variety of skills, including blacksmithing, welding and engineering processes, and therefore had to be undertaken offsite in a suitably large conservation facility, involving transporting the skeleton by road. The Asian elephant skeleton is now back on display next to the skeleton of the African elephant, so that they can be compared. The skeleton exhibits very obvious pathological deformation in many of the bones, providing a particularly engaging exhibit.

    Keywords: Elephas maximus; Osteology; Rogue; Pathology; 2001 Space Odyssey