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    Talking Wooly Is Glass-free And On The Loose

    I know this exhibit and the museum very well.

    Woolly Busts Loose
    No more glass menagerie for museum's shampooed and rinsed mammoth

    Jim Gibson Times Colonist Friday, March 04, 2005

    After 26 years, the Royal B.C. Museum has freed its woolly mammoth from its glass cage as part of the $2.2-million enhancement of the natural history gallery.

    Yet this new Free-Woolly concept poses a potential security problem.

    "I fully expect a number of tourists will stand by it and get their pictures taken," says museum natural history manager Jim Cosgrove. He doubts the new artificial rock barrier is enough to deter those regarding the mammoth as a photo-op prop along the lines of the fuzzy bear outside a Government Street tourist shop.

    Exhibit arts technician Colin Longpre thinks people might try for such what-I-did-on-my-summer-holiday poses. However, that hasn't been the case at the museum's longtime glass-free exhibits such as the nearby animal-populated Living Forest.

    Anyone posing with the mammoth will have to be quick. By today's opening, the area should be alarmed. Security won't be far away if visitors try to get close and personal with the museum's hairy icon.

    Although it's usually known as "Woolly," some staff dubbed the mammoth "Road Kill," after a visitor asked "Who shot that?" to which a security guard deadpanned: "Nobody shot it. It's road kill."

    The mammoth went into forced hibernation under plastic wraps during the latter part of the 15-month exhibit enhancement. Woolly needed the curatorial version of a hair salon's rinse and a comb-out before the opening of the Living Land, Living Sea gallery.

    This is done, according to museum arts technician Adrienne Aikins, "very, very gently." Basic tools are a paint brush to separate sections of its hair (scalped from a musk ox) for a hand-held and low-powered vacuum. Cotton swabs are used to put the glimmer back in its eyes after weeks of construction dust.

    But what museum publicity touts as an "extreme makeover" begins even before visitors catch a glimpse of Free Woolly. It starts in the lower main hall with a near floor-to-ceiling three-dimensional map of the province programmed to highlight different aspects of B.C. life. For example, says museum CEO Pauline Rafferty, it illuminates the province's salmon-spawning streams.

    But it's the second-floor Living Land, Living Sea gallery where the museum charts new curatorial territory by focusing on climate change in B.C.

    It begins by turning the clock back to the lush Cretaceous Period -- complete with forced tropical air and south seas-like mural -- when palms flourished along the coast. This is substantiated by fossils, including one of palm fronds.

    As the exhibit moves on to the Ice Age, there is a display of bones and skulls of long-gone species, among them a bison skull unearthed during the '80s in pond construction at a North Saanich acreage. And this leads the way to a real ice wall to one side of Woolly's artificially chilly and periodically stormy domain.

    Once visitors have seen the way B.C. once was, they move into present -- and future. Webcams show what's happening at the moment weather-wise at Osoyoos, Tofino and Mackenzie. Building on existing theories, interactive displays show what's in the climatic cards for B.C.'s flora and fauna in 2020, 2050 and beyond.

    Pick a topic. Press a button and the illustrated prediction is right there.

    One of the most sobering of the climate-change displays involves species already in retreat and others on the move into B.C. with global warming. One example is the Humboldt squid, now found a long way from its once most northerly habitat off Mexico.

    Rafferty is enthusiastic about the new B.C. addition, particularly as it opens in tandem with a show from the Newark Museum called Tibet: Mountains and Valleys, Castles and Tents.

    The combined shows provide not only a new look at the province, but "open a window on the rest of the world," she says.

    PHOTO CREDIT: John McKay, Times Colonist
    Royal B.C. Museum CEO Pauline Rafferty dusts off one of Woolly's monstrous tusks. The mammoth and other exhibits have been rejuvenated and will be on display Friday.

    Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005
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