Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.

 

Bom Bom’s Story

Chapter 1 – The End of an Era 

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Bom Bom - OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang

On June 25, 2012, the Oklahoma City Zoo announced the death of Bom Bom the gorilla – a local icon, beloved friend of many and father of three. His passing devastated zoo-lovers and was covered by nearly every major news outlet in the state – The Oklahoma Gazette, KFOR, KWTV and the Oklahoman. Now, his legacy lives on thanks to a partnership between the OKC Zoo and the Sam Noble Museum. 

Chapter 2 – The Backstory 

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The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans

Bom Bom was born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans 38 years ago and joined the OKC Zoo in 2002 as part of national breeding program. According to Robin Newby, supervisor of apes at the OKC Zoo, Bom Bom was a great silverback. He understood his role in the group and fostered peaceful relationships.

In January 2010, Bom Bom was diagnosed with heart disease – a common threat for captive male gorillas. Two years later he suffered a deadly ruptured aneurism in his heart that ended his life, but not his legacy.

 Chapter 3 – New Beginnings

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Bom Bom in the Sam Noble Museum mammalogy collection

Bom Bom’s body was donated to our museum, and we immediately requested the help of artisan taxidermist Paul Rhymer, who has previously worked with the Smithsonian Institution. Because the specimen was so well preserved by the museum, Rhymer was able to sculpt a stunningly realistic live mount for the museum.

“To ensure this mount was identifiable as Bom Bom, I made molds of his face so we could try to capture the facial features that make him different from other gorillas, “ said Rhymer. “From that mold I was able to sculpt a form that was a portrait.”

Bom Bom’s skeleton also left insights for scientists about the way western lowland gorillas age. According to Brandi Coyner, Sam Noble Museum mammalogy curatorial associate, zoo specimens live longer than their wild counterparts and allow scientist to observe the effects of aging. The bones of Bom Bom’s hands and feet have already been studied by a Smithsonian scientists, who is an expert in primate anatomy. 

“We could tell by the way he walked he was getting older. The museum helped us understand why, and did a great job with him,” Newby said.

 Chapter 4 – The Plot Twist

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Leom - Photo by Andrea Wright

Bom Bom also left the zoo staff one final surprise – a son. After nearly a decade of breeding failure, female Kelele conceived just one month before Bom Bom’s passing. Baby Leom – named after his parents - was born on Valentine’s Day of 2013.

Candice Rennels, manager of marketing and public relations for the OKC Zoo, stated that Bom Bom and his son Leom serve as “ambassadors for wild relatives” in regards to wildlife conservation as a whole, and the Sam Noble Museum has incorporated this belief into plans for Bom Bom’s future. 

Chapter 5 – Planning a Future

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An Ocelot portrait from RARE

The Sam Noble Museum plans to display Bom Bom in the main lobby to help welcome Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, a temporary photographic exhibit designed to raise awareness about endangered wildlife in America. Signs will help inform visitors of his purpose and relevance in preserving biodiversity. 

"Bom Bom is an extremely rare gorilla who will continue to influence people’s views on conservation as a part of the Sam Noble Museum’s collections and exhibits,” said museum director Michael Mares. “I decided to prepare him as a mount so that he would carry a message of the fragility of life on Earth in the face of the enormous environmental changes that gorillas, and people, face." 

Rare opens on Sept. 13, 2014. We would love to welcome all Oklahomans to discover a remarkable cause while rediscovering an old friend. We hope you will join us in becoming a part of this new and exciting chapter in Bom Bom’s legacy.

IMLS National Medal Q&A

Recently, we’ve been posting a lot about the Institute for Museum and Library Service’s (IMLS) 2014 National Medal award on our social media sites. Though if you’re not savvy to the museum or library scene, all of this news could easily become overwhelming. That’s why we’ve decided to do a little Q&A session to help our friends and fans understand what the National Media is and why we can’t stop talking about.

 Q: What is the Institute for Museum and Library Service?

A: According to the IMLS website, “the Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.” Ultimately, this organization seeks to inspire educational institutions to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.

Q: So what’s an IMLS National Medal?

 A: The National Media for Museum and Library Services honors outstanding institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. Basically, this award is given each year to ten libraries and/or museums that have gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of community outreach. For a few examples, check out the 2013 National Medal video below.

Q: How does it work?

A: Each year, hundreds of nominations from all across the country are submitted to IMLS. Only thirty finalists are chosen. We are so pleased to announce that the Sam Noble Museum was recently selected as a finalist for 2014, which is also the National Medal’s 20 anniversary! Isn’t that incredible?

 

Q: Why is winning so important?

A: The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor for commending museum and libraries for their community service efforts. In fact, this award is so highly revered, last year the ten winners were recognized by first lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony in Washington D.C. Below is a glimpse of the ceremony.

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 Q: So where do I fit in?

 

A: Because the IMLS National Medal is founded on community outreach, we want to encourage all of our friends and fans to share their favorite experiences with our museum on the IMLS Facebook page. Without Oklahoma’s ongoing support, we would not be where we are today, and we hope that your stories will show the IMLS what a tremendous support system our great community is.

Salvaging Specimens


In the face of an emergency or natural disaster, what’s your first thought? Is it family, friends, your home or even your car? For many of our museum staff, who have dedicated their lives to the study of rare and precious artifacts, the safety of museum collections is a very real concern. After a flood, tornado or even a fire, how do collection managers and curators decide which artifacts to save? More importantly, how do they salvage the collections, their life’s work?

 On Oct. 16 and 17, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History staff attended a three-part Emergency Response and Salvage and Recovery workshop led by Barbara Moore, a senior professional instructor of emergency response for cultural institutions. Moore has been working in museum collection care since 2000 and has worked with dozens of museums before and after disasters to reduce damage. During the two-day workshop, our faculty and staff learned all about risk assessment and methods for stabilizing damaged collections after a disaster. 

Our staff is all ears

The workshop began bright and early Tuesday morning with a discussion for museum volunteers and staff about risk assessment and safety during emergency procedures. Prevention is key when it comes to these kinds of situations, so Moore listed several ways to reduce external and internal risks, such as trimming trees close to the building and never placing artifacts on the floor.

Moore followed up with a more in-depth discussion later that afternoon exclusively for collections and research staff. This phase of the workshop reviewed methods of stabilizing and drying damaged collections, conducting initial damage assessment, and material-specific salvage techniques. For example, paintings are of highest priority after receiving water damage and must be laid flat to dry. Textiles, however, can be frozen to prevent further erosion. 

The second day was spent with the collections and research staff focusing on one of the most difficult aspects of museum recovery, prioritization. Curatorial prioritization takes into account the most used and valuable items, while salvage prioritization considers the most vulnerable items. Both must be considered when ordering salvage efforts. Finally, to review techniques learned in the workshop, the staff was given real-life scenarios and asked to respond using their knowledge on salvage preparation, organization of the salvage operation and salvage practice. 

Moore discusses preventative measures

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done as emergencies can be emotionally taxing. According to Moore, the most common mistake museums make in salvage and recovery is “rushing in too fast without a plan or reason.” That’s why it’s all about preparation. So, how did the Sam Noble Museum measure up? According to Moore, the museum is doing a great job staying diligent and prepared for an emergency situation since her last workshop in 2007. Moore also commended the museums efforts at preventing disasters by reducing risks.

 While we never hope to be in situations like those of the Barnum or Intrepid Museum, both of which were severely damaged by natural disasters, the threat is ever-present. However, Moore provided the museum staff with more than just a plan; she left behind peace of mind.

Why We Love Picky Volunteers

Christie Godec looms over a broad, L-shaped desk in a black leather chair, staring down a binocular microscope with forceps in hand. Carefully, she picks through a thin layer of soil and rock – watching, waiting. At last, she unearths something of interest, what appears to be the bone or tooth from our shared prehistoric past. Slowly, she drops the fragment into a miniature, cork-sealed vial, scribbles on a small paper chart and returns to the tray before her.

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Godec sifts through sandy soil

 Such is the work of a “micropicker”, a volunteer in the vertebrae paleontology department who tirelessly sifts through gallons of soil to find shards of prehistoric remains.  The work is slow and repetitive, but rewarding. In 30 to 60 minutes, Godec can process one coffee scooper filled with soil, typically unearthing a couple dozen fragments in that time. With no formal training in paleontology, she knows only what fossil preperator Kyle Davies has taught her – and that’s all she needs. 

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Five-gallon buckets waiting to be picked 

Five years ago, Godec moved to Norman, Okla. after retiring from her job as a dental hygienist. She decided to get involved with the museum after receiving a volunteerism flier from her daughter, who works for the University of Oklahoma’s continued education department. Right away, she was hooked.

 “It’s like an Easter egg hunt every time I come in,” Godec said.

 A lot goes into micropicking. First, professionals sanitize the incoming soil to eliminate pests, which can damage the facilities and collections. Then volunteers must sift through the soil to salvage the specimens, which are often smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen. Finally, undergraduate students mount the specimens to the head of a pin, which they drive into the cork that seals the vial. At last, the specimen is stored in collections for future use in research.

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A mounted specimen rests on top of a pin

As you might guess, many volunteers do not appreciate the tedious sifting required of micropicking, but it is vital to understanding prehistoric ecosystems. Godec believes her previous skills as a hygienist make her an ideal picker, as she is accustomed to working in microenvironments that demand a detail-oriented mindset. 

“For me, it’s fun,” said Godec. “Dental hygiene requires a lot of patience and repetitive work, but it’s always different. Every tray is different, too.” 

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One of many micropicking cabinets

 Currently, there are just two micropickers at the museum, with two more in training. The first round of spring docent training will begin this weekend on Feb. 22, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. So, if you are interested in gaining hands-on experience like Godec, check out our volunteerism page for information about upcoming opportunities or drop by on Saturday! Also, be sure and sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates on this year’s volunteer of the year award and banquet.

Fossil Fuel Fund Drives Oklahoma Students

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein

Learning isn’t just for the classroom

 Think back to your days in elementary school. Can you recall all the stages of the water cycle? Which book your teacher read in the fourth grade? What about the sixth president of the United States?

 But you can remember seeing the zoo’s giraffes on your second grade field trip or zipping down the pole during a trip to the local fire department. According to Scientific American, the human brain can hold a million gigabytes of memory. So, what gives? Chances are, some of your most memorable experiences happened outside out of the classroom – and that’s why experiential learning programs are so important.

 

Experiential learning is an integral part of education

In recent years, Oklahoma schools have faced increasing difficulties obtaining funds for supplemental learning experiences like field trips.  Higher operating costs related to energy, transportation and insurance, among others, are forcing many schools to eliminate field trips and other experiential learning programs. 

 To demonstrate his commitment to the Sam Noble Museum and its educational programs, OU President David L. Boren committed $10,000 to the museum in 2007.  These funds established the Fossil Fuel Fund (FFF), which provides scholarships to low-income, high-poverty area schools in Oklahoma. 

A thank you note from a FFF recipient

 Today, the FFF continues to provide scholarships to Oklahoma schools. Last year alone, 55 schools applied and $12,204.86 in reimbursements was distributed. That’s 2,949 students!

Each scholarship provides an average of $400 in transportation reimbursement to the school, and allows approximately 40 students to experience the top-notch galleries, exhibitions and artifacts found only at the museum. 

Students take in the amazing Hall of Ancient Life

 The FFF also provides a classroom-based educational program that students can enjoy during the visit. These specialized classroom programs are designed to complement classroom curricula and are correlated to current Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) learning objectives for the state of Oklahoma. 

A glimpse of our PASS-driven educator’s guide

“To see the wonder, the awe, the interest in my students as they viewed the exhibits, to watch them interact and answer the educator, and to experience their growth in social/community skills was so satisfying for me,” said one ninth-grade teacher from Ada Junior High.

Schools who visit the museum on a scholarship need only to provide the discounted student admission fee ($1.75 per student) for their entire field trip experience.  In situations where the need is dire, the per student admission fee can be reduced waived.  Funds are disbursed on a first come, first served basis. 

“As a science museum, we understand that exploration, discovery and direct experience are powerful learning opportunities,” said Jes Cole, head of museum education. “We strive to make the museum accessible to all Oklahomans, and the Fossil Fuel Fund is one important way we can accomplish this goal.”  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life, physical, and social science occupations are projected to add 190,800 new jobs between 2010 and 2020 as they grow by 15.5 percent.

With science occupations constituting such a major portion of America’s future job market, it is imperative that we invest in today’s students. If you would like to make a contribution, either on behalf of an organization or individually, please contact Pam McIntosh at (405) 325-5020. Or, if you would like to apply for scholarship assistance, please fill out the application on our website.

Help us make science unforgettable. Contribute to the Fossil Fuel Fund.

Out of the Ashes: The Story of the Sam Noble Museum

Long before dinovators and a famous bronze mammoth, the Sam Noble Museum was little more than the odds and ends of various university collections. The history of the Sam Noble Museum is a tale filled with disaster, frustration and never-ending setbacks, but it is also a tale of persistence and passion.

 When the University of Oklahoma first began accumulating artifacts and specimens in the early 1900s, the artifacts were housed in a single building that served all administrative and teaching functions. Then, the museum was nothing more than a loose collection of goods numbering in the thousands. Tragically, the administrative building burned down several times during OU’s early history, and nearly all collections were lost by one particularly devastating fire in 1903.

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Collections were once housed in administrative buildings

During the 1920s and 1930s, the remainder of the collection passed through a slew of buildings, being stored wherever possible in attics, basements and stadiums. In these conditions, the artifacts and specimens could not receive the preservation care they needed, nor were they available for public viewing. However, with the Great Depression underway, funds were scarce, and the collection would remain scattered across campus for at least seven decades.

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A WPA project in western Oklahoma during the 1930s

A Work’s Progress Administration effort yielded a large collection of dinosaur fossils. In 1939, J. Willis Stovall, scientific leader of the WPA excavation team, articulated the university’s need for a permanent housing structure for the collection’s artifacts and specimens. In 1943, Stovall became the first curator and director of the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, part of which was moved into three abandoned ROTC buildings.

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The first museum building was the university’s former ROTC headquarters

In 1953, Stovall passed away, and the museum was renamed The Stovall Museum of Science and History. However, the collection would remain in the same dilapidated buildings for the half a century. In 1969, collections from various departments were combined to strengthen fundraising efforts.

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A leaky roof and limited space made storing collections difficult in the ROTC barn

 In 1983, Michael Mares became curator of the museum and pushed plans for a museum building, moving its priority rank from number 116 to number 35 on the university’s building list. Around this time, Mares worked with legislators to change the museum’s name to the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, making it the official natural history museum for the state of Oklahoma.

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Mares circa 1983

The museum collected a $5 million bond from the city of Norman and $15 million from a statewide higher education bond, but a new building would cost $42.5 million. Just as Oklahoma supported the museum through the passing of crucial bonds, the people of the state, led by alumni of the university, rallied together to make this visionary project a reality.

 “The funds were raised privately, with everything from school children across Oklahoma, to donors large and small, “ Mares said. “There were several $1 million donations, and the largest donation was from the various foundations of the Noble family, which ultimately totaled $10 million. The only thing the Noble family asked was for the museum to be named in honor of Sam Noble, who had passed away while we were building the museum.”

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SNOMNH today

The Sam Noble Museum opened at its current location on May 1, 2000 and welcomed a record-breaking 62,269 visitors in the first month. Although it took over a century, the fragmented collection that was once reduced to ash became a leader among natural history museums. The road was long and difficult, but now the Sam Noble Museum is finally home sweet home.

For more information about the museum’s history, be sure to check out our four-part YouTube series, “Behind the Rain”.