Think of it as a library of animals. That’s how Alan Hitch explained where he works, deep inside a fluorescent-lit complex at UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology. The concept was intriguing, and it turned out to be incredibly vivid.
Hitch and his colleagues scour parts of the planet to measure species populations and gather specimens. Lately that’s taken him to Indonesia and other parts of Asia looking for birds that can be studied, collected, and physically catalogued.
Yes, catalogued. Hitch took me around his library, a series of drawers and cabinets filled with taxidermied birds, , even one disjointed mountain lion. Some of the animals, which are gutted before being stuffed with cotton, have been preserved in the museum for years. Preservation techniques mean that the species will be around for decades for future researchers to study. Even animals that Charles Darwin studied in the 1850s are still preserved in British museums, Hitch said.
It’s a job that’s not for everybody. But it is important work. Species data helps inform wildlife managers and land owners who are in the best position to protect threatened species. Some researchers think that keeping old DNA may even one day help revive extinct species, like passenger pigeons. “You have to know what’s out there first, and where it is,” Hitch said, “before you can start thinking about protection and conservation.”