Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

SAM adopts Adelaide Zoo’s flamingos

SA Museum’s resident taxidermist Jo Bain with stuffed flamingos Chile and Greater.(ABC News: Michael Clements).

Sara Tomevska, Flamingos go on show after painstaking preservation work by SA Museum taxidermists, ABC News, 10 November 2021

They were the last living flamingos in Australia and loved by generations of families, now, Chile and Greater have been immortalised through the practice of taxidermy.

The birds were unveiled today in the South Australian Museum‘s mammal display, drawing a round of applause from onlookers.

Chile and Greater’s former keeper at Adelaide Zoo, Emma Crittle, even shed a tear of delight.

“Getting to see them again was really lovely, and it brought unexpected joy after not seeing them for so many years,” she said.

“I did shed a few tears of absolute happiness.”

Adelaide Zoo has housed flamingos for more than 135 years, but by 1982, Greater and Chile were the last ones left.

Greater passed away in 2014 at the ripe age of 83 and Chile joined her life-long companion four years later.

Octogenarian flamingo Greater died in 2014.(ABC News: Michael Clements).

Instead of being buried, they were brought to SA Museum’s resident taxidermist Jo Bain, who kept them in his workshop freezer until the museum had raised enough funds to bring them back to life.

“My mission is the same as the zoo’s mission,” Mr Bain said.

“They want to educate people about wildlife and why it’s important. And I do too.”

Mr Bain and his assistant Rowan Moore have been intensively restoring the birds since August, but preparation began more than a year ago.

“The feathers were quite bloody and mucky, so we had to wash their feathers one by one, which was not that easy,” Mr Bain said.

Gift for future generations

When asked just how difficult preserving Greater and Chile was, Mr Bain replied: “14 out of 10”.

“They’ve very old and were particularly fragile,” he said.

“Bird skin is very thin.

“When you couple that with an aged flamingo where if you bend the skin, it breaks, then requires sewing up — it’s an added layer of difficulty.”

Taxidermist Rowan Moore worked closely with Jo Bain on the restoration.(ABC News: Michael Clements).

SA Museum director Brian Oldman said the results speak for themselves.

He also thanked members of the public who chipped in donations.

“Flamingos, even when they’re ‘taxidermied’, still need money to keep them in tip-top condition,” Mr Oldman said.

“We generated about $25,000 through donations, but we need another $10,000 to enable us to keep them in tip-top condition.”

Animal lover Michelle Clarke-Edwards said she donated $16,000 after hearing about the SA Museum’s fundraising drive on ABC Radio Adelaide.

“I listened to David Bevan on the morning program, and I thought, ‘Oh, it sounds like the museum needs help’,” she said.

“I had some money that I hadn’t spent on any holidays or house renovations, so I put a cheque in the post, and they’ve called me down today to have a look at them.”

Flamingos Greater and Chile at Adelaide Zoo.(Supplied: Emma Crittle/Zoos SA).

Ms Clarke-Edwards said she and her husband migrated to Adelaide in 1965, and “always remembered the flamingos at the zoo”.

“I miss them, I miss that beautiful colour. I just love that pink,” she said.

“The [taxidermy] was better than I expected. I thought it would be too hard to capture their feathers and all the ageing, but it’s just beautiful.

Posted 10 Nov 202110 Nov 2021, updated 10 Nov 2021
Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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