Journal Article

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  • Bringing taxidermy back to life: the conservation of an Aldabra giant tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea Schweigger, 1812
    van Gaver, A.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 8, pages 13 - 20

    The University Museum of Zoology Cambridge (UMZC) reopened in June 2018 after a major Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment. As part of this redevelopment the opportunity to display a 19th century mounted giant tortoise presented itself. The specimen had been kept in storage for decades and was chosen to head up the turtles’ section in the tree of life display. Badly damaged, both structurally and superficially, the specimen was one of the biggest conservation projects undertaken. The large areas of skin loss was an opportunity to test out a variety of structural fills to find the most sympathetic, stable and visually pleasing result. I will present the results of these tests, and also discuss the stabilisation of the deteriorating internal structure and explain the aesthetic challenge of imitating reptile skin. Affectionately named Susan Mildred by a visiting school group, the tortoise soon became a firm favourite with the public and outreach team. Talks on the conservation project were held in the museum and highlighted during the ‘Meet the experts’ outreach project. This article will examine both the conservation challenges experienced during the lengthy treatment, and the collaboration with the museum’s outreach team that developed.

    Keywords: conservation, taxidermy, tortoise, structural fills, colour-matching, outreach, engagement, collaboration