How do you move a 3.5-metre-high elephant skeleton that weighs more than 270 kilograms and yet is extremely delicate?
For the past 30 years Jumbo the Elephant has watched over the Skeletons exhibition in the Museum's oldest gallery, the Long Gallery, which is now being refurbished. So it was time to move the giant bones to a new home -- the Museum's new exhibition Wild Planet (due to open mid-2015).
Exhibition Project Officer Angus Adameitis, assisted by fellow prep team member Yuri Humeniuk, took on the task of dismantling and moving Jumbo. With no data available from Jumbo’s last move, expert improvisation was needed to ensure a smooth relocation.
‘We estimate the skull is about 90 kilograms’, explained Angus. ‘The jawbone in particular is super heavy.’ Attached by only two bolts, it contains several fine bones, making it surprisingly fragile.
Positioned above the still-suspended skeleton, a soft, webbed sling was connected and then wrapped under the delicate jaw, nestling the skull and supporting its weight. The sling was lowered into a steel travel frame, secured, and unhooked from the gantry, leaving the skull hanging inside the frame.
Angus and Yuri then detached the legs (with toes), each limb weighing around 20 kilograms, and placed them on a trolley. Last to go and heaviest at 100 kilograms was the vertebral column and ribcage unit which had to be secured in the gantry for transport. ‘It’d be no different if you moved it 10 metres’, says Angus. ‘You can’t just leave it lying down because it’s too fragile. It would probably break.’
Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the skeleton has now been reconstituted in its new home. The successful move means that Jumbo, the much-loved Museum resident since 1897, will continue to fascinate another generation of Museum visitors.
Erinna Ford, Communications Intern