A week or so back, I posted a review of Derby Museums new nature gallery. Now, I’m delighted to see they are trying to pick a new mascot for the ‘notice nature, feel joy’ gallery.
There are three contenders; The Sun Bear, The Fox, The Pangolin, and The Hippopotamus. They winner will be announced 7th August following a public vote. I’ll be voting hippo, and here’s why you should too.
1. It’s not the easy choice
The other three standing in this election are cute and obviously engaging taxidermy specimens. But the Hippo isn’t taxidermy. It’s actually a fossil, over 100,000 years old, found in a local excavation in the village of Allenton.
Because it isn’t as immediately ‘loveable’ as the others, mascot status will shine a light on it. As a geologist and palaeontologist, a champion of the uglier animal, and a natural contrarian, that makes the hippo a far better choice as mascot.
2. It’s unique
The fox is a lovely piece of taxidermy, the Sun Bear and the Pangolin are pleasant and attractive. They are cute. But examples can be found up and down the country. They are not unique or distinctive. This hippo is just that. Because…
3. It’s local
Yes, as odd as it sounds, this hippo is a Derby native, unlike the Sun Bear or the Pangolin, which lived elsewhere.
While digging a well at The Crown Inn, Allenton in 1895, workers discovered large bones. This turned out to be the hippo.
It has been commemorated locally in road signs and in a sculpture by Michael Dan Archer. Can the others say that?
But how did a hippo get to Derby? A circus? A long-lost zoo? That leads us onto…
4. It’s easily the most interesting story
No, this hippo wasn’t introduced, it was a genuine native, living and breeding in Derby long before any humans settled there.
The gravels that the workers were excavating, laid down on the banks of a river, long predate the last glacial period of the ice age. Further excavations have uncovered a range of animals including bear, deer, ox, elephant and rhino.
For a museum, this is gold dust. It allows us to talk about how climate changes naturally, and to contrast that to modern climate change. It allows us to talk about how nature changes, how plants and animals move, go extinct, and evolve. Nature isn’t static, there is no ‘right’ set of animals in an area. The Allenton Hippo shows this.
A fox is a lovely animal, and politically deserves positive attention right now. But foxes are something we know and are familiar with. But a Derby hippo?
Of all the four choices, the hippo is the only one that is local, unique, and a route into talking about fundamental aspects of modern ecology and conservation. If that isn’t worth a vote, what is? So…
Thanks to Derby Museums and Andrea Hadley-Johnson for letting me do this and providing photos.