One thing about visiting the zoo is that if you go at the wrong time of day you’ll find most the animals are snoozing. Not so at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, where the animals are stuffed and permanently alert.
You can’t miss the building as it has two large giraffes drinking coffee on the balcony. It was originally used as a gymnasium for Russian students in 1913 and was adopted by the University of Helsinki ten years later.
Inside the foyer an imposing African elephant stands next to the ticket seller. As with many attractions in Helsinki, you can enter for free for the last two hours of the first Thursday of every month.
The ground floor holds The Story of Bones. I found the monkey skeletons quite creepy, until I opened a cupboard and found a human skeleton, curled up in a corner and that creeped me out even more.
Moving upstairs to the World Nature display we were greeted by a giraffe and two red pandas. I felt a bit sad seeing a stuffed orangutan swinging from a tree, next to a mandrill baring his teeth to us from behind the glass.
Seeing the Australian section was quite strange for me. There were stuffed animals that I’ve seen very much alive in the wild – echidna, small marsupials, sugar gliders and native birds of all descriptions.
The African section was impressive with many natural scenes recreated, including a night room full of nocturnal creatures. It dawned on me that for many Finnish children this may be the only way they see some of these animals as they are not housed at Helsinki Zoo.
The Finnish Nature section was really impressive and moved through different seasons, showing arctic foxes and bears in the snow and rivers, feasting on salmon. There is of course a collection of specimens in jars and large shells from the world’s oceans.
The top floor holds the History of Life exhibition which Miko loved as it was dominated by prowling dinosaurs. This level was quite interactive and the aquatic section was cleverly done with lights instead of water.
To be honest, it was a fascinating experience but it left me feeling queasy. Miko loved it and I realised sadly that if we lose more animals to extinction this will be the only way many children get to see them.
So we really must be grateful for the research and preservation of these animals I suppose – otherwise we’re all stuffed aren’t we?