Bird Burglars: Rare Specimens Missing from British Museum

Bird Burglars: Rare Specimens Missing from British Museum

Katherine Bagley
Published: 08/14/2009
Photo Courtesy of British Natural History Museum

Approximately 300 beautifully hued bird specimens have been stolen from the internationally renowned ornithological collection at the British Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire. According to police and museum officials, the specimens were swiped in late June and include extremely rare, brightly-colored tropical birds from South America and Papua New Guinea that are virtually irreplaceable.

The Tring ornithological collection has been assembled over the past 350 years and contains approximately 750,000 bird skins representing 95 percent of the world’s known existing species. Researchers often tap into the collection to help identify specimens, bones, and feathers, and compare measurements and species. The museum claims the birds have been used in a variety of studies ranging from anatomy to art and taxonomy to archaeology and that the collection is a main source of information on bird distribution in Africa.

On a slightly good note, none of the stolen specimens are from the museum’s Charles Darwin collection, which houses 8,000 birds collected by the famed naturalist in the 19th century.

The museum is working closely with the British police and Wildlife Crime Unit to track down the thieves. They are asking all bird collectors to keep an eye out for anyone offering unusual products or skins on the market. Detective Fraser Wylie of the Hertfordshire Constabulary told the Associated Press the robbers might have been working on behalf of a collector. But he also mentioned that authorities are considering the possibility that the raiders might use the rare plumage to make fishing lures, dresses or costume jewelry.

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