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Strange discoveries from an otter in a Bovril box to polar explorer’s penguin at Powell-Cotton Museum

A host of fascinating discoveries has been made at the Powell-Cotton Museum in Birchington following the routine cataloguing work undertaken by volunteers.

A box of elephant toenails, a penguin collected by Shackleton and a monkey collected from Dreamland are among those discovered, just a few of many curiosities collected by Percy Powell-Cotton and curators over the years.

Dr Inbal Livne, head of collections, said: “The Powell-Cotton Museum is host to a massive collection of various artefacts, only a proportion of which are on display.

New items discovered at Powell Cotton Museum
New items discovered at Powell Cotton Museum

“Behind the scenes is a huge task of collating all the specimens collected by Percy Powell-Cotton and others over the years, and we have a wonderful team, including volunteers, who are all uncovering items as they methodically go through the items.

“These items are part of those we have uncovered that have lain undisturbed for many years, and only now are coming to light.

“Who knows what else is down there?

“We look forward to uncovering more in the future –
although whether it can get weirder than elephant toenails, I don’t know!”

The box of toenails were from two male African elephants.

The box of elephant toenails!
The box of elephant toenails!

One had been collected in the Ituri Forest, Congo, in 1906.

The other came from Uganda, during Percy’s expedition in

In 1907 Ernest Shackleton set out on the first of his three Antarctic expeditions aboard the Nimrod.

Shackleton had paid the taxidermist and naturalist George W. Pinfold to instruct some of his team in the preparation of animal skins, so that they could bring specimens back to Britain.

In 1921 George F. Pinfold became curator of the Powell-Cotton Museum.

He worked at the museum for the rest of his life and like his father was an excellent taxidermist and a collector of curios.

Several items have already been unearthed
Several items have already been unearthed

Through him, the Shackleton’s penguin made its way into the collection.

In the years leading up to the Second World War several animals were given to the museum after they died in Dreamland’s zoo.

Alfred the chimpanzee was collected in the 1920s by Fred Merfield, a naturalist and hunter who spent decades working in the Cameroons and a friend and business partner of Percy Powell-Cotton.

Alfred was turned into a model with a wooden body covered in real chimpanzee skin and hair.

Shackleton's penguin was among the finds
Shackleton's penguin was among the finds

It also has real teeth, but they were put in the wrong way around, giving him a strange grin.

Other items uncovered include a plaster cast undertaken by Percy Powell-Cotton of his brother Gerald’s nose, a bushbuck jawbone with evidence of an abscess, and an otter in a Bovril box.

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