Since opening last May 2018, I’ve always wanted to visit the National Museum of Natural History. When it was opened, the hype was sensational, piquing my curiosity. I’ve been meaning to drop by, but news of crowds and long queues during the weekends dampened my mood. The only alternative is to explore it during the weekdays, when the crowd is thinner.
Finally, the opportunity opened itself. But the skies were overcast, a gloomy sign. A typhoon has been forecasted and I’ve been debating for most of the first half of the day whether I should push through with my plan or not. Whilst I pushed through with my plan, the rain begun to pour while I was on my way to the museum. Thankfully, when I got there, the rain has subsided. **Sigh of relief**
The National Museum of Natural History is one of four main museums that comprise the National Museum Complex in Rizal Park, Manila. It is primarily dedicated to celebrating the country’s rich biodiversity, highlighting its unmatched natural magnificence. What really piqued the interest of the general public are not just the displays but the architectural marvel at the core of the museum, the Tree of Life that dominates the entire structure.
The “Tree of Life” dominates the museum’s atrium and greets museum goers. Like Juan Luna’s Spoliarium at the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Tree of Life is the museum’s major representative. It is difficult not to equate the Museum of Natural History with the Tree of Life. To Filipinos, the tree of life is akin to the coconut tree, which might have been the inspiration for the metallic structure. Finding myself under the tree’s proverbial shade, I can understand the fascination over the structure. It is a thing of beauty that embodies many of the Filipino’s enduring values such as resilience and withstanding the odds.
But the tree of life is just the appetizer. If one explores every nook and cranny, one can learn fascinating facts about the richness of Philippines’ biodiversity spread over four floors of a plethora of exhibits and displays. Each floor was ingenuously designed to depict a different ecosystem, starting with the treasures of the sea in the first floor eventually concluding with a walkthrough the science and study of natural history.
My afternoon adventure begun at the first floor which houses temporary exhibits and function halls. Petrified woods and different fossils prop up its hallways. The king of the Philippine skies, the Philippine monkey-eating eagle preserved through taxidermy are also on display in this floor.
The highlight of the second floor can be found in Gallery I where Lolong’s skeleton is suspended above for everyone to see. Lolong is an Indo-Pacific or saltwater crocodile which, at 6.17 meters, once held the Guinness Book of Record for being the largest crocodile in captivity. He was captured in 2011 but didn’t last in captivity, passing away on February 2013. His sensational capture was well-documented on national television. The second floor also houses an audio-visual room presenting Philippines’ UNESCO heritage sites.
The third floor is personal favorite as it features the realms both underneath and above the sea. The best exhibit is the submarine which gave a pseudo-realistic atmosphere of what it is like being under the sea, with realistic projections of corals and schools of fishes seen through circular windows. There are displays of a myriad of sea shells, starfishes, corals and preserved sea creatures. The different types of coastal areas were also projected.
There were so many things to learn about life under the sea that I spent more time here than in any other exhibit. The inner child in me was aroused by the new things I was discovering and learning. One of my most fascinating discoveries was the chocolate chip starfish. I once saw it in Manjuyod sandbar but back then, I called it by its generic name, a “starfish”. There were just so many things to learn that one afternoon is not enough.
Inching up to the upper floors, I found myself on one of my favorite nature retreats in the fourth floor. It featured the diversity of mountain ecosystems. Birds, frogs, snakes and other animals found in the mountains are just amongst the many displays in this area. Apart from the various fauna, the best of Philippine flora is also in exhibit, the most famous of which is the rafflesia. Who’d have thought that there are many species of rafflesia all over the Philippines; 13 are endemic in our country.
The sciences studying natural history, including geology, are in prominent display in the last exhibition floor. In this floor, museum goers are given a peek of the different forces that shape our earth. There is a gallery dedicated to mining and energy resources. There are drawers for metallic and nonmetallic ores. The thing that caught my attention is pyrite which I have learned in one of my high school subjects. To the uninitiated, it earned the moniker “fools gold” for its deceptive gold-like luster.
There are so many things to explore and learn in the museum. Museums are pantheons of learning that we must all learn to appreciate. I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Natural History. It is both idyllic and educational. It captivates both children and adult alike with its myriad of displays.
The museum has many interactive facilities, most of which are dedicated for children. There are audio-visual rooms where one can learn more. I even participated in a quiz through a touch-screen monitor. Museum goers are also given the opportunity to use scientific equipment like caliper, magnifying glass and microscope. There are dark rooms where real-life ecosystems are projected. Every possible scenario is contained in this Parthenon of nature.
You know what the best thing is? It is all free! So take the time and drop by the National Museum Complex.
P.S. You can only begin to imagine the expanse of our country’s rich biodiversity. Admittedly, I was looking for vestiges of the elephant fossils recently discovered in Kalinga. But I guess it is too premature to display it in its entirety. Hopefully it gets displayed in the museum once the excavation is completed.
Here’s a gallery of pictures taken at the museum.