New Zealand’s isolation is the key to its staggering success in keeping so many endemic species. Admittedly many of these are microscopic, but we have around 25,000 endemic species (found only here) and another 25,000 which have managed to migrate to our neighbours in the Pacific. By comparison Great Britain has just two endemic species. It’s therefore not surprising that the focus of Te Papa’s Te Taiao | Nature exhibition is the story of this natural heritage. The display makes us think about why it’s special (the wonder and intrigue), the threats endemic species face and the action we need to take to ensure their survival.

Leon Perrie, Lead Science Curator for Te Taiao | Nature at Te Papa, gave a lecture to the Friends of Te Papa on Wednesday 4 September, about the exhibition which opened in May 2019. It’s the biggest exhibition undertaken by Te Papa since it opened. He told us that Te Papa’s Nature team, along with over 100 outside helpers/experts, spent 3 years planning, designing, collecting and building the exhibition — a key component of which is the Endemic Wall.

The Endemic Wall features 620 of the 25,000 endemic species, chosen for their good stories and availability to be displayed (clearly the micro-organisms don’t get a look in). They also represent a broad range of biodiversity. The display is stunning; there are some real specimens, others are plastic models made by creative talent from Human Dynamo Workshop in Wellington, and the flora has been dried in silicon gel to enable a 3 dimensional display. This is such a welcome change from the old pressed dried arrangements. Details of the entire collection can be found here.

The collection’s story is told through written and digital information in 2 languages and has been drawn from Te Papa’s existing collection, some are on loan from NIWA, and some have been recently sourced. It was fascinating to hear from Leon about how the team brought this show to life from first ideas and concepts, to planning and paper mock-up displays, and then to the final show. The team who made it happen include not just curators and botany experts, but also story-tellers, spatial and graphic designers, mount-makers, a collection manager, installers and so many more. Thank you to Leon Perrie for a thoughtful and informative ‘behind the scenes at the Museum’ talk.

Sue Gifford

Feature image: L-R Leon Perrie and members taking a closer look at the Endemic Wall following the presentation on Displaying Unique Life in New Zealand. Photo by Jillian Wellings.