The exhibit shows a wealth of species that have emerged as a result of different evolutionary paths and explains how they have adapted to conditions on Earth. The world of invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals comes to life in six rooms of the recently renovated historic building of the National Museum. Zoe Samin visited the exhibit and spoke to Ivo Macek, responsible for the museum’s natural history collection, about how it was put together and what makes it so special.
“It’s a five-year project and it’s not an evolution in the strict sense of the word as we know it – as from the Big Bang – that’s why it’s called The Miracles of Evolution, because it is only a fragment of the evolutionary process shown on different groups of animals. As you walk through the exhibition, you start with invertebrates – the most common animals on our planet, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and, finally, mammals.
“When we designed the project in 2016 we had to decide how to go about it and we wanted to create something that would be very interesting even for tourists who know natural history museums around the world and some of them have a very high standard. We wanted to achieve something up to western standards and maybe raise the standard of exhibitions in the Czech Republic and I hope we achieved that. Czech media hailed her as one of the most modern natural history exhibits in Europe. I am often asked what makes it special and I think it is the materials used as well as the way the animals are presented – they are not in cases or racks , they are everywhere.
“What we did – and I think it’s quite innovative – was we asked artists to draw the animals in their natural environment because I wanted them to look alive and interacting. . When we were satisfied with the designs, we would send them to the nine taxidermists we have cooperated with across Europe. We have worked with some of the best taxidermists in Europe and they have worked with the photos we sent. Usually, it’s the other way around. Taxidermists produce the stuffed animal and then it is placed in a crate. “
Wasn’t it difficult to organize this during the pandemic and get the stuffed animals to the Czech Republic?
“Yes, we had several problems, mainly to have the animals of different taxidermists delivered across Europe. In the end, we found logistics companies willing to transport them, but it cost a lot of money. Taxidermists did not want to travel with animals across multiple states during the height of the third wave of the pandemic. And, of course, there were issues with the giant squid because it is 17 meters tall – our biggest model – and it had to be transported from France. There are only two such models on the planet – one in Toulouse and one here in Prague. The team of experts who made the model – because it is a model – was afraid to come to the Czech Republic because of the Covid situation here at the time. It was transported in pieces and we had to find people to assemble it here. We did it and it worked. We also repainted it, as the original color was unrealistic. The giant squid is difficult to see in its natural environment because it lives in great depths, but in 2006 a Japanese robotic camera filmed a curious baby squid and so we painted our squid from this video.
I really like the Japanese giant crab. How did you choose the animals and where did they come from?
“Well, if we’re talking about mammals and birds – 95 percent of them are brand new – that’s over 400 new animals created by taxidermists across Europe. Most of them come from zoos. When an animal dies in a zoo, it is usually donated to a museum. You mentioned the Japanese crab – it’s a historical specimen from the 19th century and most people here in the Czech Republic remember this specimen from the days before we closed for reconstruction in 2011. So some of the old specimens are here as well – but fully restored.
Do you think the pandemic has changed the way people view museums? Did this discourage visitors?
“At the height of the pandemic, we were closed, like most other institutions in the Czech Republic, but we tried to adapt to the new situation by creating an online exhibition. It was a good experience for us and we actually won the first prize in the Czech Republic for our online exhibition project which was pretty good. We decided to keep the project even after the reopening as it seems to suit some people, who are happy to see the exhibits on their screen. There is also a voice over telling a story which is a bonus because when you are actually here you are mostly on your own and some visitors are not able to grasp the main theme. So we plan to have online exhibitions in the future as well.
It can be complementary to this exhibition….
“Yes, it can help promote the exhibition here. We don’t know to what extent the pandemic will influence people’s behavior. They are quite careful especially when it comes to crowded places and of course here people touch things a lot, but we place great importance on hygiene and disinfect all the time. “
Are you satisfied with the number of visitors so far?
“Yes we are, we opened on Friday October 1st and I was here with my kids on Saturday because they were so excited about the show. It was a bright and sunny day, which usually means people prefer to spend time outdoors, but that was not the case here – the museum was packed with people, which was a very pleasant surprise.