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Revived Gorilla, Takin Dioramas Open at Academy of Natural Sciences



The new, restored gorilla diorama at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia.

John Hutelmyer/ANS

Two dioramas at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia have undergone their first restoration in 80 years and the results are stunning.

Work began in mid-February on the gorilla and takin dioramas, installed in 1938 and 1935 respectively. Last month, when work was completed, they were resealed with the 330-pound glass panels that protect them as much as possible. But after eight decades, degradation is inevitable.

To revive them, the academy spent $125,000 on each and used a team of taxidermists, artists, conservators, and staff cleaning every nook and cranny. Small leaves as thin as potato chips were cleaned one at a time with Q-tips.

The glass in front of each display is now cleaner; the animals are fresher; the landscape surrounding them is vibrant down to the smallest detail.

In the gorilla exhibit, the floor is covered with foliage that looks realistic, as do the green leaves on the plants that surround them, no longer cracked from age. Much of the same goes for the takin diorama, where the animals and the environment look remarkable.

The restored takin dioramaNew, restored takin exhibit

Focus on the environment

One goal of the project is to bring more attention to the environments surrounding the animals. While the gorilla and takin are the focal points, they would not be able to survive in the wild without the ecosystems in which they live.

“You can’t have gorillas without trees,” says Jennifer Sontchi, the academy’s senior director of exhibits. 

There is also an increased emphasis on the environment in the descriptions that accompany the displays. The current descriptions mainly focus on the animals. For example, the information provided with the giant panda diorama notes they are vegetarians, nocturnal and that there is evidence that suggests pandas are more closely related to bears than raccoons. It also warns that giant panda populations are decreasing because of “loss of habitat, poaching and bamboo shortages.” While important, it doesn’t offer substantial information about their environment and how it affects them. “The ecosystems are just as important as the animals,” says Sontchi. The new descriptions will also be presented on electronic interactive displays.

The restoration project may have been expensive and time consuming, but is extraordinary when seen in person. The Academy would like to restore all of its 37 dioramas, if funds are available.

Matthew Brooks is a MetroKids intern and student at Drexel University.

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