The Colorado Springs Animal Museum offers nearly 650 specimens | Way of life

On the fourth floor of the Osborne Center for Science and Engineering hides a wild kingdom.

Only this wild kingdom at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs isn’t so wild anymore. Its inhabitants are rather dead. And stuffed.

The eyes of stuffed mammals stare stoically at your soul from their perch on the walls. There’s Ted Turner’s Montana ranch bison that fell down a toboggan during vaccination and broke its neck. The female mountain lion found on the side of the road. A beaver considered a nuisance animal. A caribou donated by a student’s grandmother. A stillborn elk. A 2-year-old black bear who climbed a telephone pole at the Air Force Academy and touched two wires at the same time. A peccary sporting longer fur than its domestic pig relative. An elusive albino white muskrat.

And then there are the drawers of the stiff little beasts. Alignments of mice and bat species. Study the pelts – the dried and preserved remnants of skin and fur – of a wolverine and spotted and striped skunks. Dozens of coyote, marten and wolf skulls. Replicas of skulls, recognizable by their yellowish tint, of giraffe, okapi and cave bear. Also the real skull of Maggie the hippo from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Suffering from kidney failure and other medical issues, she was euthanized at age 34, her skull donated to the museum after being cleaned and left to rest for a year.

They found their final resting place here, the Jon C. Pigage Museum of Natural History and Wildlife Laboratory, a fluorescent-lit room filled with lab tables, where specimens serve as an educational collection for biology students and teachers. other students. as community awareness. Teachers are welcome to bring their classes, or specimens can be brought into classrooms. The public is also welcome. The museum has no set hours, but people can call and schedule a time to stop by.

“They (mammals) are so fascinating and diverse, and we could spend days studying and learning about their lives,” said Aaron Corcoran, assistant professor of biology at UCCS and a mammalogist. “Being able to see them in person, hold them and look at their skulls and body shapes, it allows you to connect with them. It allows you to be really intimate.

When the building opened in 2009, Assistant Associate Professor of Biology Helen Pigage packed and transported specimens to campus from Centennial Hall with her husband, the man for whom the museum is named, who died in 2018. There had far fewer specimens at the time, while the current number stands at 136 species and almost 650 specimens, including photos.

The museum was an exciting project for Jon, who spent many nights researching websites, such as Skulls Unlimited International, to find new specimens to purchase and add to the collection, or contacting organizations for donations. , as a breeding center for black-footed ferrets. in Fort Collins. He was able to get three of the endangered creatures that look ready for action on a counter.

Skulls can cost a few hundred dollars, depending on the quality.

“And demand,” Corcoran said. “Some things like wolf skulls are much more sought after than marten skulls. Some people just want to have a wolf skull, not necessarily a mammalogist. They just have an interest.

Throughout the school year, groups of students gather around the tables in the laboratory, where they observe the stuffed animals and skulls. They compare subtle characteristics, such as the fur on the tips of mouse tails or the size of a foot. It is important to have a specimen to learn from, rather than just seeing an animal in a textbook.

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“You can read what a hairy ear looks like. What does a light belly look like compared to a darker belly? Corcoran said. “These are very subtle features, but once you see them you can identify them in the field.”

The ability to come face to face with mammals is important not just for students, but for humans in general.

“People don’t seem to have a connection to nature,” Pigage said. “People didn’t grow up on farms like 40, 50 or 60 years ago. If it’s not concrete and steel walls, people don’t interact with it in many cases. »

Contact the author: 636-0270

Contact the author: 636-0270

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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