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Focus on Latin America

October 2011

Millions of Spiders, Snakes, Dinosaurs, Birds and Plants Need Help

PhotoPreserving the dinosaurs

In the cavernous public galleries and ‘below stairs’ in tiled laboratories and wood paneled store showcases literally millions of species of insects, spiders, birds, fish, dinosaurs, rocks and plants help trace the evolution of the continent.

The vertebrae of a 40 meter long Argentinosaurus huinculensis is reputedly the largest specimen of its kind in the world. Another 200 million year old dinosaur is reputedly the oldest of its kind and is one of around 100 dinosaurs in the collection.

There are around four million spider specimens alone and according to renowned international researcher Martin J. Ramirez the collection is not only a comprehensive history of the past but a ‘living’ testament of the present.

Ramirez said he has personally discovered 70 new species of spider in his career.

They are all housed in Argentina's National Museum of Natural Resources in Buenos Aires. The 199-year-old institution is one of the oldest and most important in Latin America but in recent years has struggled to both maintain and accurately catalogue its magnificent collection.

In a three-year project which began in 2010 the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been assisting the museum, providing experts in such fields as conservation and preservation, training local officials and providing equipment ranging from humidifiers to specialized containers for large snakes.

PhotoMillions of species must be catalogued

On occasion the agency has provided similar expertise and technical cooperation in other parts of the world, including the establishment of the new Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo and at Cambodia's ancient ruins.

According to director Edgardo Romero, the museum began its first comprehensive review and overall of its collection—a total of maybe 15 million specimens—only a decade ago.

"It was an overwhelming task," Romero said. "Some specimens had been destroyed by time. Cards and books were still being used to catalogue the exhibits."

Without modern techniques and expertise, it would probably have been an impossible task to try to haul the museum into the modern world.

"JICA has provided invaluable help," he said. "They have been very flexible in what they provide and they try to come up with solutions to special and specific problems."

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