Statement Regarding the Tragic Loss of Collections at Museu Nacional de Rio de Janeiro from the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC)

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) expresses shock and sorrow at the devastation of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro due to fire on the evening of 2 September, 2018. The largest museum in Latin America and the fifth largest museum in the world, the Museu Nacional is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Holdings include an estimated 20 million anthropological, mineralogical, ethnographic and natural history collections.

Fortunately there was no loss of life in the fire, which occurred after the museum was closed for the day. Some collections, as well as the main library, were housed in separate buildings and thus were spared. Still, this tragedy robs future studies of Latin American culture and biodiversity of critical information about life in the past that can help us understand and prepare for future environmental change.

We empathize with the feelings of utter devastation that our fellow natural history collections professionals in Brazil are experiencing today. But, knowing their passion for documenting and conserving Brazil’s remarkable biological and cultural diversity, we are confident that they will emerge from this tragedy with a strong resolve to strengthen the nation’s collection infrastructure to ensure that no collections will face a similar fate in the future.

On behalf of the membership of SPNHC, I extend our solidarity and support to the collections professionals at Museu Nacional, throughout Brazil and worldwide. May every natural history collection in the world use this terrible tragedy as an opportunity to review all disaster preparedness plans, and, whenever possible, to meet with their local first responders to be sure they understand the special vulnerabilities of natural history collections. SPNHC stands ready to work with other organizations to lend expertise and any other assistance we can to the recovery process.

Barbara M. Thiers
New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY
President, The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
3 September 2018