Forget Kohinoor, India just lost its Jurassic Park

National Museum of Natural History gutted: Specimen destroyed include a 160-million-year old fossil bone of the Indian Sauropod Dinosaur

New Delhi : At a time India is lamenting the loss of Kohinoor, the nation has to also reconcile with the loss of a nearly four-decade-old National Museum of Natural History that was on Tuesday ravaged in a massive blaze.

The museum was a veritable treasure trove: It housed thousands of rare specimens of flora and fauna, including a 160-million-year old fossil bone of the Indian Sauropod Dinosaur.

The fire started on the top floor of the six-storey FICCI building, which housed the museum in Mandi House area of Central Delhi, and rapidly spread to all other floors, except the ground. The museum is just a stone’s throw from Parliament.

Fire department officials said the fire safety mechanism of the museum was “not functioning” due to which the blaze could not be controlled. It is not immediately known what caused the overnight fire which was brought under control at around 6 AM.

The museum had a rich collection of herpetological specimens — of tigers and leopards, preserved butterflies and pre-historic fossils — and all of them have been gutted. The museum also had a 160-million-year-old fossil bone of the Indian Sauropod Dinosaur. Environment Minister Pra-kash Javadekar, who visited the spot, described the fire mishap as “unfortunate” and ordered a safety audit of all museums under his ministry.

“This is unfortunate. The Museum of Natural History was a national heritage…We will assess the loss and see how we can restore it,’’ Javadekar said.

While the impact of the fire is yet to be determined, officials have equated the mishap to “losing a vital piece of history”. This includes a life-size open-mouthed model of a dinosaur and an equally imposing model of an Indian rhino, which were visible crowd-pullers.

‘‘The fire highlights the value of taking utmost care of such a treasure trove,” Deepak Apte, Director of Bombay Natural History Society, said.

Around 170 firefighters braved the searing heat that went beyond 800 degrees Celsius to douse the fire, in an operation which lasted over four hours.

“Thankfully, we had only displayed one third of our total collection and the rest was kept in reserve. We are not allowed to enter the premises as of now and have no clue about the extent of the loss is,” said Naaz Rizvi, a scientist at the museum.

If some officials are to be believed, several rare specimens that were showcased on the lower floor of the museum could be safe. The officials however refused to speak on record.

But most of the stuffed artifacts like white tiger, Asian cheetah, snow leopard and several others are feared to have been reduced to ashes. These exhibits were believed to be highly combustible. “It’s a sad day for us, as the NMNH was like our second home… We are numb,” said a museum official.

The NMNH, which opened to the public in 1978, is one of the two museums focusing on nature. It functions under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

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