Issue - June 2008

June 2008

In this month's issue, read about how Wilson Peñaranda began his career; Elias Burgess brings Alcides D'orbigny Museum of Natural History; Jennine Loiseau invites us to participate of Fête de la Musique; Ivan Montaño tells us about Andean more...

June 2008

Alcide D’Orbigny Museum of Natural History

The museum, which has been open to the public since 2003, was established to teach people more about the environment they live in.

Elias Burgess
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Vermont - Unites States

It has an active partnership with San Simón University and the French Embassy, and serves as a repository for important scientific specimens. May be small, but it has a comprehensive collection of exhibits ranging from mounted butterflies to a dinosaur skeleton. The museum, which has been open to the public since 2003, was established to teach people more about the environment they live in.

Additionally, it has a library of over 6000 volumes containing some of the most important works on biology and geography in the country. This information is computerized and open to the general public. The museum also provides a place for specialists like archeologist Boris Rivas Duran to work in their fields. Mr. Duran spoke to The Cochabanner to give his opinion on why the museum and its work is important.

The Natural History Museum has a number of different exhibits. The first of these that a visitor is confronted with upon entering is the collection of minerals. The museum has collected quite a few samples of the native rocks and minerals of Bolivia, such as amethyst and sulfur. For those who prefer fauna to rocks, there are the taxidermied animals. Dozens of mammals, birds, and reptiles are preserved in lifelike poses all throughout the museum. The collection includes everything from a tiny hummingbird to a stuffed cougar. Next are the insects from all over Bolivia, including hundreds of beautiful butterflies and moths, as well as tarantulas as large as a human hand. Perhaps the most impressive of all the exhibits is the partially-completed dinosaur skeleton that Mr. Duran is currently working on.

Although only the head and a leg are currently complete, even these fragments give an excellent impression of the sheer size of the ancient animal. There are plenty of other fossils as well, such as preserved ferns and trilobites, which are millions of years old. Each exhibit is accompanied by posters and signs explaining in depth the significance of the displayed items and their role in the Bolivian ecosystem and human culture. For example, the display of taxidermied bats is enhanced by an explanation of the use of bat wings in traditional folk medicine. By emphasizing the social as well as the biological role of wildlife, the museum gives them relevance and context.

But Boris Duran says “A museum is like a mausoleum”. In other words, only dead things end up in museums so it is easy to believe that they are not important. Mr. Duran, on the other hand, believes that only by learning about the past can we discern the future. Although the museum already has moderate attendance, he wishes more people would come to learn what the past has to offer. “It is important that both adults and children become more aware of our natural history,” he added. He hopes that with increased public recognition and support, the Museum D’Orbigny can grow to include more of the plant and animal life of Bolivia. “Sometimes this place is crowded,” he said, “but sometimes there is nobody here at all.”

The museum was named in honor of the distinguished French naturalist Alcide D’Orbigny (September 6, 1802 - June 30, 1857). Other naturalists have named several species after him. He visited Bolivia as well as several other South American countries to collect samples. His 1833 scientific book about his findings from these voyages, La Relation du Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale was praised by none other than Charles Darwin as “one of the great monuments of science in the 19th century.” Some have described him as “the father of micropaleontology” for his revolutionary work on microscopic ferns.

According to the website of the Museum D’Orbigny, the institution plans to expand its range of exhibits and activities dramatically. Many of these future developments are designed to make the whole place more interactive and dynamic. For example, the museum intends to offer classes in paleontology for children and expand to include a computerized movie theater. In addition, it is starting a number of ambitious programs, such as an evaluation of endangered species and the widespread promotion of conservation.

With modern concerns such as deforestation and global warming, it is perhaps more important than ever to study the natural world and appreciate what it has to offer. Organizations such as the Alcide D’Orbigny Museum of Natural History provide an excellent opportunity to do so. The hard work of Boris Duran and the rest of the staff has created an atmosphere of interest and learning. Any Bolivian with an interest in natural history will be delighted by the people and exhibits of the Museum D’Orbigny.

The French Music Festival

...But whoever hasn’t yet had the chance to celebrate this festival anywhere in the world might wonder what « la fete de la musique » really is. This music celebration was born in France through a brilliant initiative from the Board of Culture in 1982. The idea was to dedicate a whole day to music by giving musicians a chance to play in the streets of French cities, giving each individual the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of music for free...

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