Draper Natural History Museum Partners With Game And Fish For Its Collection

Dec 18, 2020

Early one morning, eight volunteers surrounded a table with a 400 pound grizzly bear carcass in its center. Draper Natural History Museum Assistant curator Corey Anco said they are defleshing the animal.

"They are removing all of the meat around the bones, all the meat around the ribs, all the meat around the vertebrae," said Anco. "And they're trying to get this as clean as we can reasonably so."

Anco said once the bones are cleaned as well as possible without hurting them, the bones are then given to flesh eating beetles.

"They will then clean those bones to the best of their ability," he said. "And they do a remarkable job with minimal or no damage at all to the skeletons as opposed to boiling it, which can really kind of break down the integrity of the skeleton."

And only then, will the bones be put back together to be a bear skeleton, which will be put on display in the natural history museum.

"Our collection focuses, especially on wildlife," said Nathan Doerr, the Draper Natural History Museum curator. "And we rely for that collection on salvaged and transferred specimens."

That means they get specimens from Game and Fish like this one or roadkill.

"So when we rely on those salvagers and those transfers, we do have voids in our collection, because we're limited to what we're able to bring in," said Doerr.

Doerr said many natural history museums over the years have relied heavily on researchers or explorers travelling and coming back with specimens. But the Draper prefers this approach.

"Unfortunately, those specimens aren't, they certainly aren't prime specimens, when we talk about putting them on exhibit or even skeletal remains, that can really kind of affect the quality of the collection," he said.

But they have figured out a way around this problem and that's through a partnership with Game and Fish. Bear Wise coordinator Dusty Lasseter explained how they got this 400 pound grizzly.

The de-fleshed head of the grizzly bear.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

"We caught him this spring after he was killing chickens and he had lost about 80 pounds," said Lasseter. "He had a big wound in his back probably from being bit by another bear and he was just in really poor physical shape. He was desperate."

Lasseter said this wasn't the first time they had found the bear since he kept on causing problems. When a grizzly bear enters more human populated areas or gets into human-bear conflicts, wildlife managers try different ways to stop the animal from their bad habits. But if it continues, one management technique is killing the bear.

So that plus his bad physical shape meant it was time to take the bears' life. At this point, management decides what to do with the carcass: throw in the landfill or donate.

"This was a perfect specimen for the museum because it was a mature adult male. He had a pretty good coat. He had long hair and was a good specimen," said Lasseter.

Through this partnership the museum hopes to get more specimens in the future. And it sounds like Game and Fish thinks that's a good idea. Lassater said the department tries to donate good specimens to educational institutions so that the specimens can help educate the public about their bone structure, size and physical features.

"It buys more public tolerance, and just in general, increases people's awareness and education on the landscape."

Once the grizzly's bones are ready they will put him on display. Their hope is to continue this partnership so as to expand their collection. And educated the public on a wide range of species.