Open Letter to the National Museum, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

On September 2, a devastating fire ripped through of Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum. This is a tragic loss not only for Brazil but for the world’s natural and cultural heritage. Following is a letter sent from the Board of NATHIST, on behalf of the membership, to offer support and assistance, but also to recognize that what remains is still of significant value.

September 9, 2018

Dear Colleagues;

It is with great sadness that I send, on behalf of our global network of natural history museums our deepest condolences at the loss of your museum and so much priceless heritage.

We are aware that the museum has, since its founding, been used by people from all walks of life, for education, study and entertainment. Especially devastating is the loss of your magnificent Anthropology collection, which has been justifiably famous as a resource for scholars, members of indigenous communities and the public.

It is with some relief, then, that we have come to learn from you that many biological specimens of inestimable scientific value still remain. These include:

  • Botany: more than 550,000 specimens
  • Vertebrates: 315,000 cataloged lots and 100,000 still to be cataloged
    • Tissues 37,000 – samples for DNA extraction
    • Type specimens 5,000
  • Invertebrates 80,000 specimens with a further 20,000 still to be cataloged. These include crabs, sponges, segmented worms, sea anemones, sea stars and the relatives, as well as other marine invertebrates.
    • Type specimens 4,200
  • Biological Library Your scientific library still remains the most important in Brazil, including its precious collection of Natural History literature.

Within the million objects in your current collection, there still exist 10,000 type specimens, representing an irreplaceable treasure. We know this already attracts more than 500 visiting researchers each year.

Brazil is a megadiverse country with approximately 20% of the world’s biodiversity. Remaining specimens from your collection represent completely disappeared habitats.  The world is facing a significant biological crisis and never has your collection, and your expertise, been more relevant to the global community.

Your remaining objects represent a strong foundation from which to rebuild and it is gratifying to the natural history museum sector that you will continue to make well-respected scientific contributions into the future.

We, the members of NATHIST, extend our moral support and whatever assistance we can in your endeavor to rebuild. You may be aware that the ICOM Secretariat is coordinating a task force out of Paris to provide tangible assistance. NATHIST is very pleased to be involved with this and will be in touch again through this mechanism.

We also strongly encourage the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to provide whatever aid is required to allow your globally important institution to reestablish, for this generation and those that follow.

With sincerest best wishes,

Eric Dorfman, PhD, Daniel G. and Carole L. Kamin Director, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, President, NATHIST

Maria Isabel Landim, Head of Outreach Division, Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo, Vice-president, NATHIST