Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
As many of you know, the Sam Noble Museum was awarded a National Medal by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in April. As part of that award, the museum will have the opportunity to preserve and archive its history in the Library of Congress with the help of StoryCorps, a non-profit dedicated to collecting oral histories.
From September 19-21, StoryCorps will be at the Sam Noble Museum to record a series of interviews. Each interview takes 40 minutes and consists of a casual conversation between two individuals. StoryCorps will conduct 18 interviews with two people being interviewed at the same time, and in doing so, will record the memories and experiences of 36 individuals who have impacted or been impacted by the Sam Noble Museum. Additionally, these interviews could potentially be aired on National Public Radio. For examples of previous interviews, please click here.
Many of you have been involved with the museum for years, and your experiences here are an integral part of this community. Anyone is eligible to participate, and I want to extend a personal invitation welcoming you to share your history with the museum. If you and a co-worker, volunteer, family member and/or friend have a special story or experience about the museum that you’d like to share as part of the public record, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I cannot wait to discover the many ways you have shaped this institution and community. I hope you will join me in archiving the museum’s heritage this fall, so that future generations may always remember Oklahoma’s dedication to its natural history museum.
Okay. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room. Every day, poachers kill an estimated 100 African elephants for their meat, body parts and ivory tusks. And it doesn’t help that the price of ivory has shot through the roof. Today the street value of an elephant tusk is about $15,000, and in China a single tusk can bring in $100,000 to $200,000! Of course, poaching is nothing new—but global conservation is.
Elephant poachers circa 1900
In 2009, the Department of Fish and Wildlife seized two carved elephant femurs at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The bones were donated to us in 2010 and added to our mammalogy collection. Unfortunately, these femurs weren’t the first of their kind. Over the years, the museum has also received a wastebasket and end table made of elephant feet, plus three ivory tusks—one of which is intricately carved like the femur below.
One of two carved elephant femurs
We didn’t share all of this to ruin your Tuesday. Actually, today happens to be World Elephant Day, a day for elephant-lovers, scientists and everyone in between. Today is all about spreading awareness and taking action to save wild elephant populations—before it’s too late.
In case you didn’t know, the Sam Noble Museum is all about conservation. Our curators are constantly working on new research to help foster biodiversity in the wild. And as a vehicle for science education, we’re also big on spreading awareness about wildlife endangerment and protection. On Saturday, Sept. 13, we will welcome our newest exhibit Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species. Through museum specimens and photos by Joel Sartore, this exhibit tells the story of America’s endangered and extinct species. The elephant femurs above will also be displayed within this exhibit.
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis
c. Joel Sartore, Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species
Whether it is an elephant or one of the species featured in Rare, wild animals need our help. As you can see from our collection, poaching is alive and well—even in Oklahoma. Whether you sign a petition, spare a dollar or tweet to all of your followers, we hope you take a minute to get involved in World Elephant Day. They say an elephant never forgets, but how will we remember them after extinction?
In the United States alone, museums employ more than 400,000 people and directly contribute $21 billion to the economy. Impressive, right? Despite these striking statistics, museums are still struggling. In fact, more than two-thirds of museums reported economic distress in 2012.
This sad dino by Roamin’ Doodles understands the pain.
Fortunately, there is something museum’s can do. The American Alliance of Museums offers accreditation to institutions dedicated to excellence and high professional standards. But financial motives aren’t the only reason a museum would apply for accreditation.
According to the AAM website, some of the benefits of accreditation include:
→ Increased credibility with donors and funding agencies
→ A clear sense of purpose and understanding
→ A valuable tool in lobbying local and state governments
→ Increased level of professionalism
→ Improved relationships with other museums
Sounds great, right? Of all the natural history museums in the United States, only 8 percent are accredited – the Sam Noble Museum included. That’s right! In 2014, the Sam Noble Museum was awarded accreditation for the fourth consecutive time. Of course, not all institutions who apply are accepted, which is why this is such a significant achievement.
“This means the museum continues to meet the National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums,” explained museum director Michael Mares.
The museum endured a rigorous application process that consisted of a year of self-study and site visits by peer reviewers. It is not uncommon for the process of accreditation to take up to three years.
So, what does this mean for you?
It means we are dedicated to preserving Oklahoma’s cultural and natural history, and we’ve been commended for our efforts to do so. Stronger relationships with other museums could also mean more loans for research and more traveling exhibits. As you can see, accreditation is a big deal. Don’t belive us? Check out this congratulatory video from AAM president Ford Bell.
The certificate of accreditation, framed and matted just beside Redbud Café, is on display for all Oklahomans to see, so they can continue to have confidence in the nationally recognized quality of their museum.
“It all started with a Forensic Files episode. They used diatoms to link the assailants and the crime scene, and I just thought they were so beautiful. I love how something so small can have such large applications.”
Shelly Wu’s fascination with diatoms began her sophomore year at Loyola University New Orleans. As a biology major, Wu knew she wanted to pursue a life of science, though lacked a specific focus. One evening at home, Wu stumbled upon the NBC series that would lead her to specialize in diatoms.
Video, Diatoms in Action
Diatoms are a major group of algae that appear in nearly every major body of water. Though small in size, these microorganisms have big applications – like forensics, water quality, even filtering beer. Diatoms often attach to turtle shells and establish themselves as part of a microhabitat, which is of particular interest to scientists.
Currently, only two papers have been published on turtle shell diatoms – both on Amazonian species. But Wu hopes to change that. Thanks to a prestigious summer internship funded by the National Science Foundation, Wu was awarded $4,000 to research diatoms on Oklahoma turtle shells beneath Sam Noble Museum herpetology curator Cameron Siler.
Wu in the field
“During such a difficult time to educate younger generations of researchers about the importance and incredibly broad utility of these collections, it is always exciting to see students develop novel approaches to working in natural history museums,” said Siler.
Through her research, which began in March, Wu hopes to answer three major questions. Do different turtle species support different species of diatoms? Are diatom species on a turtle host selective for particular microhabitats on the turtle’s shell? How do diatom communities on the common snapping turtle and red-eared slider vary across different regions of the US? To answer these questions, Wu is sampling, analyzing and comparing the microhabitats of five Oklahoma turtle species.
Wu studies Oklahoma’s common snapping turtle
“I sample six specific areas of the shell using a brush and circular plastic tube,” Wu explained. “I place the tube over the area, circle the brush 10 times and move to the next spot. Then I use a light microscope to examine the sample.”
In order to access the needed research material, Wu works closely with Liz Bergey from the Oklahoma Biological Survey and museum herpetology collection manager Jessa Watters. As a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, Wu’s work will also help to develop her master’s thesis on the possible relationship between diatoms, algae dispersion and turtle migration.
“Down the road it would be nice to know which diatoms are on live turtles,” said Wu. “It could help us better understand the relationship between algae dispersion and turtle migration.”
Chapter 1 – The End of an Era
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 by 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
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 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
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
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
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.
Sure, April showers may bring May flowers – but that’s not all! April also brings one of the greatest weeks of the year, Volunteer Appreciation Week. Although the national Volunteer Appreciation Week doesn’t kick off until April 6, the celebration has already begun at the Sam Noble Museum with the naming of the 2014 Volunteer of the Year!
So, who’s this year’s deserving winner?
Meet Don Batchelor, one of 250 active volunteers working in collections, offices and with the public. Batchelor has been a docent in the Hall of Ancient Life for 14 years and loves sharing his interest in single-cell organisms with our guests.
“I could spend an hour extolling the satisfaction I get at the museum,” Batchelor said, “and I appreciate the opportunity to use 70 years of experience in the field.”
The Hall of Ancient Life, where Batchelor volunteers
According to volunteer coordinator Genevieve Wagner, the Volunteer of the Year Selection Committee, made up of former recipients, selected Batchelor because of his long service and dedication to the public.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Our volunteers, of course!
“It is important to acknowledge the members of our volunteer community as each one of them makes a difference to the museum,” said Wagner. “The volunteer of the year award is part of that acknowledgment.”
Museum director Michael Mares agrees.
“The Sam Noble Museum would not be able to offer our public anywhere near the quality or quantity of programs that our volunteers make possible,” Mares said. “They are a most important part of the museum experience, influencing collections, exhibits, public programs, research and every other area of museum activity. “
We hope that answered your question. Now, who’s ready to celebrate?!
Every year, the Sam Noble Museum hosts its Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in April to thank all of the volunteers that pour their passion into our organization. This year, the dinner will be held on Thursday, April 10 and will serve as an opportunity to recognize Batchelor for his contributions. Our community partners at Arvest Bank sponsor volunteer Appreciation Week and the Volunteer Dinner.
Thinking about becoming a volunteer yourself? Feel free to check out our volunteerism page! And remember, the next time you stop by the museum, be sure to congratulate Mr. Batchelor and thank one of our many volunteers for a job (very) well done!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The lights are strung, the ornaments hung and hearts are all aglow. It could only mean one thing: the most wonderful time of the year is here! Help us welcome winter at our complimentary community celebration, Holiday Happening, on Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. Now, we don’t like to drop names, but we have some pretty spectacular guests attending this year. Who? We’re glad you asked.
We’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, alright. The University of Oklahoma’s only student-led, co-ed a capella group will be bringing joy to the world, and the Sam Noble Museum, with their renditions of your favorite carols.
The Oklahoma City Ballet
Visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in your head? We know the feeling. Come cure the craving with a dose of dance from the Oklahoma City Ballet. You’ll be dancing in a winter wonderland all night.
The Pioneer Library
‘Twas the night of Holiday Happening, and through the Great Hall, not a child was stirring, a great silence did fall. You’ll want to be sure and pack your listening ears for story time with the Pioneer Library System.
Do you hear what I hear? The talented starlets of the Sooner Theatre will perform songs from the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life and timeless carols, both old and new.
This holiday VIP is taking a little time out of his busy schedule to visit his favorite natural history museum. Children are invited to share their wishes with Santa and even pose for a pic or two!
As you can see, Holiday Happening will be a celebration of Jurassic proportions. Plus, if you bring a toy or non-perishable food item, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the Excavations Museum Store, which will be offering discounts during Holiday Happening. So pack your joy, plus a toy, and we’ll see you tomorrow at 5 p.m. for a night of carols and cheer!
Note: Please be sure to frequently check our website and social media in case of a cancellation due to hazardous weather.
Orphaned collections are a growing concern for natural history institutions worldwide. An endangered or orphaned collection is any considerable body of material, which is or soon may be no longer regarded as of value in its present ownership. According to the American Association of Museums, every year more institutions, agencies, corporations, and individuals divest themselves of their collections. When this occurs, “orphaned” collections need to be “adopted” by an existing natural history collection.
In November of 2011, Eugene Young, a professor in the Agriculture and Life Sciences department at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Okla. contacted the Sam Noble Museum about the possibility of adopting an orphaned collection from the A.D. Buck Museum.
Originally called the Yellow Bull Museum, the A.D. Buck Museum’s science exhibits included mounted specimens of birds and mammals. Sam Noble Museum curator Gary Schnell and collection managers Marcia Revelez and Tamaki Yuri traveled to the A.D. Buck Museum to view the specimens. Upon further inspection, the team found many specimens that had been on loan from the Sam Noble Museum.
A total of 14 specimens were loaned to A. D. Buck in 1961, including an adult grizzly bear, all still in good condition. Most of the collection’s Oklahoma birds and mammals were found in the early 1900s, such as the marsh hawk, in 1910, and a Pintail, in 1913.
Many of the specimens in the A. D. Buck collection are significant to Oklahoma’s history, such as the Spotted Skunk found in 1934 in Kay County, an area that had no previous record of having that species before the 1990s. After evaluation, a crew returned in December to pack up the collection of birds and mammals and bring them to their new home at the Sam Noble Museum.
The A. D. Buck specimens are not the first collection the museum has adopted. Recently, the museum’s Department of Mammalogy adopted approximately 26,000 mammal species from the University of Memphis Mammal Collection.
“It’s an ongoing goal for the museum to aid orphaned collections,” Revelez said.
Natural history collections play a vital role in understanding cultures, habitats, biodiversity and more. They safeguard specimens, inspire, educate, and tirelessly continue the research and study of various sciences. We welcome back our mammals and birds that have been on loan for so many decades and will always strive to maintain and preserve Oklahoma’s rich natural history.
It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week and the prefect time to talk about those people in the museum that make such an impact on staff, visitors and the community: our volunteers.
Every year, the museum dedicates this week to honoring volunteers for the hours they dedicate to natural history, to servicing the community and providing personal knowledge, assistance and experience to our visitors and staff.
In 2011, 161 volunteers dedicated 16,291 hours to the museum through their work as docents, with children in the Discovery Room or with staff behind the scenes.