As one may imagine, moving such a large skeleton is not an easy task. This move involved hoisting the deer on to an open-top truck and driving it to campus with an entourage of two other cars. This must have been quite the spectacle, made even more dramatic by close encounters with trees and an ESB van. On its arrival to UCD, it then had to be moved on to its podium, and one final challenge remained: getting the skull with its 4 metre antler span up the narrow stairs. Fortunately, this was achieved without incident. Antoinette Fennell described the move as “nerve-wrecking” in the first issue of the newsletter Zoology Gnus, which was launched on the day the skeleton was officially unveiled.“The backdrop painting is of Ballybetagh Bog,” says Professor Tom Bolger, Professor of Zoology in UCD, “and was painted by Billy Clarke. It features other animals that lived in Ireland at the time.” The Ballybetagh Bog near Glencullen in Wicklow is a significant location as over 100 fossils have been found there. Animals the painting depicts include a golden eagle, a wolf, and the Megaloceros as it would have appeared in when living.For a time, the elk had been kept in a room which is now a science lab in Science West. “It was formerly a museum,” says Bolger of the labs’ former use, “but to allocate adequate lab space the specimens were moved.” These specimens are those that feature in the corridors of Science West, and a large skeleton of an aquatic mammal still hangs from the Lab 106’s ceiling.Bolger praises the elk skeleton. “It’s a complete skeleton, and an impressive specimen, so it matters scientifically.”
“This move involved hoisting the deer on to an open-top truck and driving it to campus with an entourage of two other cars.”
Despite this, much of this specimen’s history remains unknown, and people know little about it. This is a common phenomenon, particularly with old fossils and animal specimens that may have been privately owned and which have changed hands many times. Animals such as the Irish elk, whose skeletons are relatively common, were regularly distributed to different institutions (the zoological museum in Trinity College also has one) but often without any form of documentation.Meticulous documentation of paleontological and zoological finds is a relatively new protocol, and as time passes the history of the people who owned and cared for specimens is often lost.Despite the mystery, or maybe because of it, the Science West elk is well worth a visit. When standing before it, take a moment to marvel at the scale of this magnificent creature, and wonder at the ancient world it called home. As a species that was one of many giant animals that are believed to have gone extinct due to human hunting pressures, it serves as a poignant reminder that the natural world is delicate. If we are not careful we may consign many other spectacular animals to a similar fate.
“Much of this specimen’s history remains unknown, and no one knows much about it”