The relocation of the collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, a real headache

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By John

A million visitors walk through the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris every year, admiring its 7,000 lifelike stuffed animals. But, under their feet, an even more precious treasure is buried. Amassed for nearly four centuries, harvested on all continents, benefiting from the harvests of great explorers such as Bougainville or Dumont d’Urville, enriched each year, this booty contains several million objects… that were once alive.

Fish, reptiles, marine invertebrates, mammals and birds: a total of nearly 8 million specimens stuffed or preserved in alcohol are housed in the basements of the Jardin des Plantes. This zootheque is part of the famous collections of the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN), which, 67 million items strong (animals, plants, minerals and fossils), constitute one of the three richest naturalist collections in the world, after those of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, and the British Museum, in London.

This wealth of resources is, for researchers around the world, invaluable material for analyzing biodiversity. It contains some 450,000 reference specimens, which made it possible to describe their species for the first time and still serve, in taxonomy, as a “standard meter”.

Operation of the site under threat

But this treasure has become the subject of a dispute. Built in the early 1980s, the reserve is saturated and no longer meets the regulatory criteria for an installation classified for the protection of the environment (ICPE), its status due to the dangers it represents. Hence the project of his move, mentioned in 2019. The management today defends the city of Dijon, a choice contested by some of the staff of the Museum.

A petition has been launched, collecting more than 7,300 signatures as of May 26, to ask “the total abandonment of this project and the opening of discussions involving the staff”. How to carry out a research project built largely on collections, if they are located 300 kilometers away, they wonder, while admitting “the urgency to find more space, to renovate the premises and improve working conditions, very far from health and safety standards”.

“We are faced with constraintsexplains Bruno David, President of the Museum. The zoo library contains volumes of alcohol that exceed the capacity of the retention tanks by 120 cubic meters. » A large number of specimens, in fact, are preserved in ethanol, a highly flammable liquid. Furthermore, an establishment open to the public, such as the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, is not authorized to be located above or near an ICPE. “There is therefore a risk that the Prefecture will prohibit us from operating the site”adds the naturalist.