Wanderlust | Best of Philippine biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History

WITH 7,641 islands and the world’s fifth longest coastline at 36,282 km (longer than the U.S. and Australia), the Philippines is a biodiversity powerhouse.

From sea to summit, the Philippines is home to some of the richest biodiversities of flora and fauna. Add the fact that our waters are part of the renowned Coral Triangle. Biologists and scientists have also discovered a multitude of organisms endemic to the country. Did you know that out of the 580 documented birds, more than 35% can only be found in the Philippines? More than 60% of the 167 species of mammals and 65% of the 10,000+ species of plants are also unique to the country.w7

It is only proper for the government to finally showcase our terrestrial and marine resources with the opening of our very own National Museum of Natural History last May, located at the National Museum Complex in the city of Manila.

During my recent visit to the national capital, I made sure to have my visit to the museum as a top priority in my itinerary.
Last Monday, I finally had the chance and head to the museum (formerly the building of the Department of Tourism and recently, the National Museum) right before 9 a.m. to avoid the crowd – only to find out that they’re only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (visitors will not be admitted starting 4:30 p.m.). So, to kill time, I checked out other spots within the complex, including Lapu-Lapu’s colossal likeness across the museum building.
At exactly 10 a.m., the gate was finally opened to the public. I entered the premise with a group of students from Pangasinan on a field trip. Entrance is free but you have to register some personal information. Bringing of bags (not larger than a small size coupon bond paper, we were told), umbrellas, and selfie sticks are not allowed. Thus, you have to leave everything at the baggage counter. Flash photography is also not permitted.

As I entered the museum, I was greeted by a massive installation at the atrium. The iconic Tree of Life, the museum’s central structure, is a symbol of the “encompassing embrace of all life on earth under God and nature”. It was built through the effort of the Philippine National Museum Foundation, Inc. with the support of various private companies and organizations.
As a green building, the museum’s atrium got its natural lighting from a glass canopy that also represent the leaves of the steel Tree of Life, an inspired design by architect Dominic Galicia and interior designer Tina Periquet. Most galleries also owed illumination from natural light.

Along with the replica of Lolong, the largest crocodile caught alive in 2011, we were also greeted by the images of Philippine wildlife icons, such as the Tamaraw, Tarsier and our “very own” Philippine Eagle (because whenever I see an image of the eagle, I will always feel that he’s my fellow resident here in Mindanao) printed on huge fabrics draping the museum’s inner wall. Somehow, those images were intentionally made to set the tone for one’s journey inside the Museum of Natural History.
By the way, Lolong’s skeletal remains can be found hanging from the ceiling inside the Ayala Reception Hall.

The six-story museum building will have a total of 12 galleries. However, not all are open yet to the public. The galleries that visitors are allowed to enter include Galleries 5 (Mossy, Montane and Pine Foresrts), 6 (Lowland Evergreen Rainforests) and 8 (Freshwater Wetlands) on the 4th level; Galleries 9 (Mangroves, Beaches and Intertidal Zones) and 10 (The Marine Realm) on the 3rd level; Galleries 11 (Our Natural Inheritance) and 12 (Temporary Exhibitions) on the 2nd level; and The Tree of Life foyer at the ground floor.

Galleries 1 (Philippine Biodiversity), 2 (Geology of the Philippines), 3 (Minerals and Energy Resources) and 4 (Life Through Time) on the 5th level, and Gallery 4 (Utramafic and Limestone Karst Forests) on the 4th floor are still being completed.
Nevertheless, the completed galleries were enough to keep me busy as I leisurely strolled from one level to another though purposefully positioned series of ramps that give guests a full view of the atrium. There’s also a scenic elevator as another alternative to the original but narrow staircase of the neoclassical building.

One of the galleries that got my attention showcased evidences of pre-historic Philippines. History books usually tell us about the conquest of foreigners in our homeland, yet there’s so much to learn about the country when now-extinct animals used to roam our fields. At the central plaza, there’s a display of the 709,000 year old tooth and bones of a Rhinoceros Philippinensis, excavated in Rizal, Kalinga. I also learned that we actually have our own pelican. Who knew?
All in all, I am impressed with the direction of how the museum is being done, which is both interactive and experiential in approach. These two factors will surely help lure in millennials and give them a creative way of re-learning our natural heritage. I fancy how the architects and designers created the galleries, mimicking real life and bringing in bits and pieces of the outdoors, complete with real sound and impressive visuals.

Through the National Museum of Natural History, it is our hope that more Filipinos will start to appreciate more our natural gifts and learn how we can save them before they become another Philippine rhinocerus and pelicans, both just remnants from our past and now museum staples.

Posted in Lifestyle