Bird Specimens

My work on bird specimens include a brief assignment by the state forest department and the Department of Zoo and Museum, Trivandrum, to excavate and catalogue old bird specimens collected by British naturalists, hidden and unnoticed in old cupboards in the Natural History Museum. This was done in 2011 and also in 2013 along with Mr. C Sasikumar.

While we were doing the Salim Ali’s trail, we found out that, in the old literature by Salim Ali, one full set of bird specimens that he had collected during his Travancore-Cochin survey was handed over to the Maharaja of Travancore. So we decided to enquire about it. When we approached the Trivandrum Natural History Museum (TNHM), they said they had no information on such a collection. While we were about to return, the curator said “there is an old room in the main building which was locked for many years. Would you like to check inside? ”. We said, “yes, why not”. There was no key to open it.

A carpenter was arranged to break the lock and thereby we entered into a foul smelling room, pretty big, filled with many broken furniture and some huge cupboards. We have to again depend on our carpenter friend to break one of the cabinets. We couldn’t believe our eyes! We found the missing specimens. We checked a few, many had tags attached to it which were very old. Some showed the year1850 on it.

This discovery surprised everyone and the then Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr. T M Manoharan, requested us to prepare a catalogue of the collection and re-tag them. The Director of the Museum also agreed to arrange a new room for keeping the precious specimens. My work in the museum went on for over six months, verifying the specimens, measuring them, taking photographs, putting new tags and digitising the information to make a computerised database. This work has helped me in another way later in 2015, while we were describing a new species of bird from the Agasthyarmali region. We had to keep a type specimen for records. Within two key strokes in my computer I could locate that there were two specimens left in the TNHM. We fixed one of them as type. There are 2225 un-mounted bird specimens in the TNHM today. All specimens have been photographed. A bird room in the name of late Mr. H.S. Ferguson, the collector and the first curator of the Museum, is under construction. Once the construction is completed, the collections will be exhibited and open to students and researchers.This discovery surprised everyone and the then Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr. T M Manoharan, requested us to prepare a catalogue of the collection and re-tag them. The Director of the Museum also agreed to arrange a new room for keeping the precious specimens. My work in the museum went on for over six months, verifying the specimens, measuring them, taking photographs, putting new tags and digitising the information to make a computerised database. This work has helped me in another way later in 2015, while we were describing a new species of bird from the Agasthyarmali region. We had to keep a type specimen for records. Within two key strokes in my computer I could locate that there were two specimens left in the TNHM. We fixed one of them as type. There are 2225 un-mounted bird specimens in the TNHM today. All specimens have been photographed. A bird room in the name of late Mr. H.S. Ferguson, the collector and the first curator of the Museum, is under construction. Once the construction is completed, the collections will be exhibited and open to students and researchers.

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