Discover the most singular specimens of the MNCN.
Based on different specimens we can observe the reproductive cycle of these beautiful birds: some of them are incubating eggs, others are feeding the chicks, others are preening their feathers to keep them in perfect condition, others fly looking for insects and others remain alert to safeguard the colony’s peace.
It was hunted in Sudan in 1913 by the Duke of Alba who donated the skin to the museum. For different reasons the skin deteriorated substantially and was kept in a bundle in the basement until 1923.
Ten years after its arrival in the Museum, Luis Benedito naturalized and mounted the elephant, a process that lasted until 1930. The oddest thing is that the taxidermist had never seen an elephant before, neither alive or dissected, so he had to do some research to determine its hypothetical dimension through photographs and engravings of living specimens.
The skin was so voluminous that there was not enough space to work on it at the Museum. It weighted 600 kg and occupied an area of 37 m2, so it was sent to the Royal Botanic Garden. It took two years to soften and scrap the skin, and one more year for the tanning. After a thorough analysis of the specimen and after making multiple scale models, he built a frame of 3,450 kg made of wood, metal mesh and plaster. Finally, he covered the structure with the already tanned and glued skin, holding it with 77,000 pins until the skin dried.
Once the process was over, the elephant had to make a last trip to return to the Museum. Not an easy task due to its size. It was towed by a truck in a platform previously built for this purpose. The transportation through one of Madrid's main street, el Paseo de la Castellana, caused astonishment among the people who witnessed the unusual scene.
The skeleton exhibited corresponds to an adult female which stranded on the beach Cortijo Blanco, in Marbella (Málaga) in February 2008. It is 21 meters long and the weight of the bones is 2,500 kg. It is estimated that the weight of the animal alive could be more than 40 tonnes.
Due to the whale’s popularity, Marbella's city council organized a competition among schools to give a name to the whale. Vega was the winning proposal.
Only a few centuries before, this species was common throughout Europe, but today it has disappeared from almost all European countries. In Spain there are still big populations, but it also disappeared from areas where it was abundant. As it is the case of Brunete, a town in Madrid where the male and two of the females in the diorama were hunted, or Valencia where the third female in the diorama was killed in 1906.
This work reflects the extensive knowledge the taxidermist had about these birds. He visited the populated areas frequently to observe the birds and get to know their habits and gestures. To give realism to the scene, the Benedito brothers went to Brunete to examine the field and to recreate it they asked for sheaves of wheat to the owner of the farm and they put them at the bottom of the showcase.
The pachyderm was shipped in Manila from where he travelled in the frigate Venus of the Royal Navy for 180 days, landing on the island of San Fernando (Cádiz) in July 1773. From there it travelled on foot to la Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia), where the King and the Queen used to spend the summer. This journey took 42 days and was full of anecdotes. Later, the elephant was transported to Aranjuez (Madrid). Unfortunately, the animal died four years after its arrival in Spain, in 1777. Carlos III ordered its dissection to exhibit it in the Royal Cabinet.
This is certainly one of the most appreciated pieces of the Museum, as it is one of the oldest naturalized species known. The work was done by the taxidermist Juan Bautista Brú, who attached the skin on a structure made by the sculptors Roberto and Pedro Michel of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.
Gomphotheres were proboscideans of the size of the current Indian elephant. They had four defences, the superior ones were more developed than the inferiors. They reached the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Miocene and were very numerous. This specimen was found in a clay quarry in Yuncos (Toledo) in 1970. It was deformed because it had to support a great pressure of sedimentation.
The origin of the collection dates back to the second half of the XIX century, when the Marquis de Socorro organized the then limited material available in the museum, consisting of just some old samples, to which he added other pieces obtained by exchanges or purchased.
Many of the meteorites of the collection were obtained through exchanges with other museums organized by the geologist Salvador Calderón in the second half of the XX century.
Coordination: Pilar López García-Gallo, Communication and Public Programs Department, MNCN-CSIC.
Exhibition created and edited by Mª Soledad Alonso, Audio Visual Service-Media Library, MNCN-CSIC
Text written by Carmen Martínez, Audio Visual Service-Media Library, MNCN-CSIC
Photos by Photography Service, Exhibitions Dept. and Audio Visual Service-Media Library, MNCN-CSIC
Videos by Audio Visual Service-Media Library, MNCN-CSIC
Deputy Direction of Collections and Documentation, MNCN-CSIC
Dept. of Communication and Public Programs, MNCN-CSIC