Karen Rowe: Most of the Museum Victoria collections within Wilsons Promontory are actually quite old; within the last 30 years we have very few specimens. We do have a lot of gaps in our collection and it's important that we collect specimens through time, because we want to look at how species have changed through time, sometimes body sized change as we look at specimens in relation to climate change and things like that. So it's really important for us to have not just some animals from a particular area, but a series of animals through time to get a good handle on what's happening to the biology of the species, to the phenology (which is the time of breeding events and other activities for the animals) through time. So when we collect the animals, we also get information on reproductive condition - are they reproducing, what time of year it is... so it's all that extra data that comes when you have a specimen that you unfortunately can't get when you just do a genetic sample.
We have very strict guidelines that we follow for any sort of animal collection from the wild. All of our policies and guidelines are listed on the Museum Victoria website so anyone can see them at any time. We also work with the Department of Sustainability and Environment determining how many of a species that we can collect, and the ways that we do so - how we trap them. And so we have multiple regulating agencies that help us decide the most humane and the most effective way to collect the minimum number of specimens that we need to maximise the amount of data.
What you see here is the skin but this is only part of the specimen. So what we also collect is the skeleton, the internal anatomy, so we keep stomach contents so we can see what they're eating, we keep all the internal organs so if someone wants to look at that later on we're preserving not just for our own information for now but also for the future. Because we certainly don't take it lightly that we have to take these specimens from the wild, but for an animal that lives a year, maybe two years, this specimen will live for hundreds of years.
Karen Roberts: I'm trained as a palaeontologist so I have a good understanding of the internal anatomy, particularly the skeletal anatomy of marsupials. I've just started this job here at Museum Victoria as Terrestrial Vertebrate Collection Manager and my interest is mammals so for me it was a great experience to be able to come to Wilsons Prom and learn from Karen Rowe about how to collect and to prepare specimens of extant species as opposed to long-dead, long-extinct ones that are in rocks.
I prepared a couple of the skins which was a great experience. It's quite a skill and an art to be able to skin and stuff not just mammals but also other vertebrates. So it was really great to be able to see the whole process and it makes you understand more or less why we do it and what the value of all these animals are. For me that just makes it even more amazing when I go into the collection and just see these rows and rows of specimens, and you can understand how long it would have taken to accumulate these and to prepare them and to get them into the state and position that they're in now.