New Delhi, Apr 26: While the damage accrued to the nearly 40-year-old National Museum of Natural History, which housed among its exhibits several taxidermied animals and a life-size model of a dinosaur, is yet to be assessed, experts said the mishap could mean losing a "vital" piece of history.
A massive fire destroyed the museum in FICCI building in central Delhi in the wee hours today leaving several nature lovers in shock. As many as 35 fire tenders were pressed into service. It took firefighters more than four hours to douse the flames.
"It is indeed a tragic accident. Loss of collection is losing a vital piece of history. Natural history collections are invaluable pieces of scientific knowledge," Director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Deepak Apte said. The incident highlights the importance of taking utmost care of such treasure troves, he said.
Among the prized collections of the NMNH, envisioned to mark the silver jubilee of the country's independence, is a life-size model of a dinosaur and an equally imposing model of an Indian rhino, which have been its crowd-pullers, especially for children during the summer vacations.
The NMNH, which opened to the public in 1978, is one of the two museums focusing on nature in India. It functions under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. "We have a large collection of natural flora and fauna, few fossils and collections of natural history.
According to our policy, we had only displayed one third of our total collection and the rest was kept in reserve. We are not allowed to enter the premises as of now and so have no clue about the extent of the loss in the fire," Naaz Rizvi, a scientist at the museum, told PTI.
She said they were waiting for official clearance to enter the premises and begin estimation of the damage caused. "It is definitely a loss, the collections and specimens were important.
We will try to rebuild our collections. This comes at a time when we were preparing to begin our summer programmes, which are very popular with school children. Our exhibits were planned in such a way that it would help them in their curriculum," Rizvi said.
The NMNH, housed in a six-storied building, has three exhibit galleries, "Introduction of Natural History', 'Nature's Network: Ecology' and 'Conservation'. It also has separate sections dedicated to the 'Universe And The Solar System' and 'Endangered Animals' besides a 'Discovery Room' and an 'Eco Theatre'.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who visited the spot, described the fire mishap as "unfortunate" and ordered a safety audit of all museums under his ministry.
"What happened cannot be reversed, but institutions having natural history collections must be provided support by central government to strengthen its safety and maintenance," Apte said.
"Fossils will be difficult to replace but other specimens of living things like reptiles and insects they would hopefully be able to rebuild," GVR Prasad, Geology Professor at Delhi University said.