Bean Museum receives sacred blue ducks, expands global collection

The waterfowl exhibit at BYU’s Bean Museum is one of the largest collections of taxidermy waterfowl in the world. The museum just received blue ducks to add to their collection. (Lauren Hemmert)

The Monte L. Bean Museum received two blue ducks from the Maori tribe in New Zealand to add to their expanding collection of taxidermy animals from around the globe.

The Bean Museum’s world-renowned taxidermist Skip Skidmore has great relations with people and animal conservatories all around the world. Due to his close connection with the Maori tribe of New Zealand, the tribe offered two blue ducks to the Bean Museum after the ducks were killed in an automobile accident.

The Bean Museum is the only museum outside of New Zealand to have blue ducks in their collection.

These ducks, called Whio in the Maori language, are sacred to the tribe. The ducks are living symbols of the health of the environment and are considered sacred due to their ability to reflect the health of the ecosystem. The blue ducks are also an extremely endangered species.

“Being able to receive the blue ducks with the blessing from the Maori people is a great way for us to bring attention to the blue ducks,” said exhibit designer Travis Schenck.

The blue ducks will have their own display in the middle of the Morris waterfowl exhibit. Schenck said the museum worked with tribal elders from New Zealand to learn the stories and cultural significance of the ducks, and they are working hard to emphasize that in the display.

Because of the sacred nature of the blue ducks, the museum is planning on having a small unveiling ceremony during Winter Semester 2021 to celebrate the ducks. Schenck said they hope to bring awareness to the duck’s endangerment and honor their sacredness to the Maori people in this ceremony.

Schenck said these ducks are an exciting way to connect with people from across the world and bring a more global approach to the museum.

“We want to help people look at other places of the world and say, ‘Wow, God’s hand was here,’” Schenck said.

The museum’s waterfowl exhibit happens to be the largest waterfowl taxidermy collection in the world. With the addition of the blue ducks, the Bean Museum falls just 11 species short of having all 162 species of waterfowl in the world on display.

Almost all of the waterfowl on display were donated to the museum by the Morris family, after whom the exhibit is named. None of the birds in the waterfowl exhibit were “trophy” mounts. The birds were from a private bird sanctuary and, after they passed away from natural causes, were preserved and donated by the Morris family to the museum.

The taxidermy animals provide a unique experience of seeing the animals up close so patrons can “feel their presence without disturbing those in the wild,” Schenck said. “We can highlight the wonders of the animals without putting them or you in danger.”

Sidney Wadsworth is a wildlife management and conservation major who works as a graphic designer for the museum. He said until recently, the Bean Museum mainly focused on African animals as those were the most easily available. But now they are trying to have a global perspective by including animals from all around the world.

“We want to fill in the gaps and give the visitors a more global view of wildlife and conservation efforts,” he said.

The museum will have an animal from each continent on display once their new exhibit that includes a possum from Australia is put out.

Wadsworth said taxidermy museums are important because they help people understand the connection between humans and the animal kingdom.

“The Bean Museum is more than just a museum. It has one of the largest research collections in the western United States in regards to this field of study,” said biology junior and exhibit technician Abe Field.

He also said interacting with these animals in such a way “instills a curiosity” to inspire visitors, especially young kids, to get involved in conservation and protecting the natural world.

The Asian Adaptations exhibit is one of the new additions to the museum that helps push the global focus of the museum. The student-led initiative created the exhibit to showcase unique animals from Asia that have diverse adaptations.

Exhibit technician and finance junior Brennen Serre said the goal of the exhibit was “to pull out the weirder species to introduce people to the stranger things they’ve never seen before.”

Snow leopards, sloth bears, saigas, tigers, takins and more fill the new Asian exhibit. A Eurasian Lynx will also be put on display soon.

The Asian Adaptations exhibit in the Bean Museum showcases many strange and lesser known animals that live in Asia. (Lauren Hemmert)

Through partnerships with the Hogle Zoo, the Snow Leopard Trust and other wildlife organizations, Serre said they are hoping to “change things up and make the Bean Museum less of a glorified hunter’s museum and more about conservation.”

“We kind of put the environment aside and sometimes it ends up hurting us in the long run,” Serre said. “We need to protect the environment because no one else is going to and no other species can.”

Serre said most of his work focuses on helping people understand their stewardship of the natural world. “We as humans are in a special position where we hold a lot of power over the natural world. We need to make sure we are doing our part to protect these natural spaces.”

Serre and the other workers try to emulate the museum’s mission statement in all they do for the museum: “We inspire wonder and reverence for our living planet.”

The museum is also currently working on finishing a new exhibit upstairs called “This is the Place.” It will showcase all six biomes of Utah, from the Great Basin to the Mohave Desert.

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