How a Giant Panda – possibly called Grandma – ended up at Leeds City Museum.

Written by Clare Brown, NatSCA Membership Secretary & Curator of Natural Science, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Discovery Centre.

On display in the basement gallery of Leeds City Museum is a stuffed Giant Panda. We’ve always known and referred to her as “Grandma”, the panda that died only a few days after arriving in London in 1938.

Photograph of a taxidermy giant panda at Leeds Museum.
‘Grandma’ the Giant Panda ©Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Grandma, named as she was the oldest of the group, and her compatriots Happy, Grumpy, Dopey and Baby (Snow White was released in March that year) were the first live Giant Pandas to arrive in the UK. They had taken a long and complicated journey out of central China. Trapped in the forests above Weizhou, Sichuan, the pandas were initially kept at Chengdu under the care of Elizabeth and Floyd Tangier Smith.

Over several weeks, paperwork was prepared and plans were put in place for moving six pandas across the country during a Japanese invasion. It was then Elizabeth who, leaving a poorly Floyd to catch a plane, navigated her way to the Hong Kong Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Dogs Home, a journey of some 1400km. One panda died en route.

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Many Hands Make Light Work

Written by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

The past couple of years have seen a significant shift toward digital alternatives throughout the museum sector, from online exhibitions to webinars and remote conferencing, with our collections and their stories reaching a potentially global audience, more so than ever before. While much is being done to boost engagement with collections in new and exciting ways, museums on the whole have yet to harness the power of this shift when it comes to collections management.

The value of our natural science collections lies in their accessibility, in how open they are to this growing audience, from our local schools to researchers around the world and everyone in-between.

As our collections grow and our technology improves, digitization has become an important part of maintaining natural history collections. Using a citizen science approach, and bringing museum audiences on-board, we can turn collection management into a way of improving our collections, while simultaneously facilitating a deeper and more meaningful level of engagement with our objects and their stories.

Zooniverse is a free online platform built to facilitate a crowdsourced approach to large data sets and, while traditionally used by academic research groups, is an ideal solution to tackling tasks with much more efficiency than lone curators or even dedicated teams might be able to achieve. Projects can either be restricted to a specific group of users or opened up to the public for anyone to contribute their time to.

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Mo Koundje: How Gorilla Histories Can Help Decolonise Our Collections

Presented by Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries.


Mo Koundje (‘Mok’) is a Western Lowland Gorilla in the collections of Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG). His taxidermied skin is displayed at Leeds City Museum, while his skeleton is in the store at Leeds Discovery Centre. At present, his remains are used as an example of ‘gorilla’ in the Life on Earth gallery, but they have the potential to tell us so much more. Using archives from the Zoological Society of London, the Natural History Museum, and the Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer, as well as French and British press archives, I have found out more about Mok’s life. His story touches on domestic life in French colonies, the interaction between colonists and colonised communities, and the illegal hunting and trade in gorillas, which continues today. The remains of animals from once colonised countries have the potential to reveal stories not only of their own experiences, but of the people whose lives were affected by colonisation. By entering colonial homes, gorillas enable us to look at racial and gendered hierarchies imposed by European colonisers from a new perspective. We can, and should, use these stories to engage our audiences with a range of political and environmental issues still relevant today.

This presentation contains distressing images.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Compiled by Jennifer Gallichan, NatSCA Blog Editor; Curator at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff.

Welcome to the December edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

This month’s Digest dispenses with the usual format and focuses on all things Christmas. Apologies to all those Scrooges out there, but all things considered, this year needs as much sparkle and fairy lights as we can throw at it people!

There are some super virtual advent calendars going on. I am off course recommending my very own institutions @CardiffCurator account. This year our annual #MuseumAdvent calendar meets #NatureOnYourDoorstep. We launched our nature #WinterBingo challenge on the 1st December. Find all 24 things before Christmas, tag them in and they’ll retweet your finds.

Then there is the wonderful Leeds Discovery Centre Video Advent Calendar. Every day, open a door to see what object their curators and staff have found in the Store. Also an excellent opportunity for a virtual nose around their stores.

And this year, Manchester Museum are bringing you a #Caring Christmas advent calendar. Each day their gift to you is a little story of wonder, celebrating how we care for our world and each other.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – October

Compiled by Jennifer Gallichan, Curator: Vertebrates/Mollusca, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Welcome to the October edition of NatSCA Digital Digest!

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. If you have visited an exhibition/museum, have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, please drop an email to

Where Should I Visit?

It is definitely worth visiting Beavers to Weavers: The Wonderful World of Animal Makers exhibition at Leeds City Museum as they have just won a Museums Change Lives award in the category of environmental sustainability. More than 48,000 people visited this exhibition last year, so if you’ve not yet been, it’s worth checking out. The exhibition has an environmental focus displaying beautiful objects made by animals. Discover how animals build homes, make armour or camouflage, craft tools and traps to catch food or change their appearances to attract each other. If you want to know more there is also a great blog about it.

After its recent stay in Great North Museum: Hancock, Dippy On Tour finally comes to National Museum Cardiff this month! This will be Dippy’s only sojourn in Wales, and so is a fantastic opportunity for many to see this iconic specimen. Croeso Dippy i Gymru! There are tonnes of related events programmed, you can dance around Dippy at our Silent disco, or find your inner calm at Dippy about Yoga, so well worth a visit.

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