Whenever I travel to a new country, I always make sure to visit the natural history museums first. I find great joy at observing the creatures that exist in our world, and those that once roamed the land. As such, when I heard that there was a natural museum located at the University of Florida, I made sure to visit it on the weekend of the my second month as a UF Freshman. It was a wonderful experience, made better by the fact that the exams were still a few weeks away; the museum may not have the mind-blowing number of specimens that the most famous ones located in New York and Washington D.C. have, but I think anyone in the area of Gainesville would enjoy its focus on Florida fauna and flora. I’ve been visiting the museum several times since then, but this will be the first time that I do so in order to understand the impact that natural history has on me.
Nature on Display
To the best of my knowledge, this area of the museum is known as the Florida Fossil Hall. It is a room that contains skeletons of animals from five geological periods. The reason why this room was so appealing to me is because it felt like the skeletons could come into life at any moment; there were positioned in a way that look natural yet intimidating. The room’s resemblance to a habitat captured the attention of the little children that passed by me as I took a picture of the gargantuan sloth skeleton; they were pointing at the giant bird skeleton, wondering if it would come to life and peck them all. One thing that I did not know prior to coming to the museum was that llamas became extinct in North America about 10,000 years ago, implying that they were probably living happily in this land for hundreds of thousands of years. This comes as a big surprise to me, in light of the fact that I come from one of the few countries that has domesticated the llamas, Peru; until my visit to the museum, I was under the impression that llamas had only ever existed in the Andes Mountains. It is the joy of discovering something that I didn’t know before that keeps me looking for new natural history museums to expand my knowledge of earth’s biodiversity.
Nature and Ethics
As I mentioned before, this museum has a special focus on the natural history of Florida. When people enter the museum, one of the first exhibitions that everyone sees (as it is in the front of the museum) is the one that shows the Native American population that used to reside in Florida hundreds of years ago. I think having humans as part of the natural history museum is the best way to connect people with Earth’s biotic community, as it highlights that we, in Florida, are not that different from people of other regions or times in history. I have an easier time identifying myself with Indian culture and paintings because my family comes from a branch of Native American ancestry. When I look at their paintings or representations of their everyday life, I see people who do not wish to harm the environment, who take only as much as they need to survive, and who cherish the land and nurture it. This realization gave rise to sense of frustration at the downside of industrialization: deforestation, the extinction of fauna and flora, and the contamination of the air and water. However, I also experienced a sense of relieve when I overheard a couple teaching their children about the Native Americans; while the damage has already been done, I hope that people don’t think that it is too late to help restore a culture that has a lot to offer to the world.