Reflections from a museum [Zürich, Switzerland]

It was winter in Switzerland. I decided to visit the Zoological Museum in Zurich to escape the cold and also to explore some aspects of natural history. The Zoological Museum was established in 1833 and contains more than 1500 specimens of species from different parts of the world. The specimens of extinct species are displayed and maintained well. The huge skeleton of a Mammoth (Mammut in German) is one of the most attractive collections in this museum. During the 1890s the Mammoth skeletons were discovered from Niederweningen in Switzerland. One of the adult Mammoth skeletons is displayed in this museum. 

Most of the cat species, like the Siberian Tiger, Snow Leopard, Eurasian Lynx and Puma were also displayed. Though the museum exhibits hundreds of specimens, there were a few which got my attention. 

Snow Leopard

The Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is one of the critically endangered species once found across southeast Asia. They shared their habitat with the One-horned Indian Rhinoceros. Due to poaching and loss of habitat, the species became extinct in Southeast Asia, except Indonesia. Vietnam lost its last Javan Rhinoceros in 2010. Since then it has not been recorded in any part of that country. No camera trap has shot the Javan Rhinoceros. Today the Java island of Indonesia has less than 100 Javan Rhinoceros which are struggling to survive due to loss of habitat. Cattle grazing in that area is another threat to the remaining few rhinoceros. One hopes that the government of Indonesia will take steps to protect and conserve this species which evolved millions of years ago, and roamed across much of south-east Asia. 

Javan Rhinoceros

The Asian Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is another critically endangered species that was found across the plains of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. The introduction of the gun and poaching pushed them to the brink of extinction. The last cheetahs of India were killed in 1948. They were tamed by the kings to hunt blackbuck and hare. India’s remaining forests are still providing space for other big cats like the Bengal Tiger, the Asian Lion, the Indian Leopard and the Snow Leopard. But the disappearance of Asian Cheetahs is the biggest loss for Indian wildlife. 

Asiatic Cheetah

Once the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) was living across most of the world including India, China, Japan, Europe and Canada. However, they were locally extinct in Japan and Ireland. But now Ireland is introducing them in the wild. So the wolves are back in the forest after 250 years. The wolf population in India has also declined, mainly due to the loss of their prey base and poaching. Their numbers are 35 known to decline due to street dogs. Saving the wolf population is difficult but possible. 

Grey Wolf

Like the Grey Wolf, Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) once lived in the northern hemisphere but are now locally extinct in many countries. In Portugal they have revived after two centuries; a few individuals from the Cantabrian mountains of Spain have moved to Portugal. The sightings in Switzerland also gives hope for Brown Bears. The other two vulnerable bear species, the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), and the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) were also displayed in the museum. Due to climate change, the Polar bears are losing their habitat in the northern hemisphere. The Giant Panda, endemic to China, is also facing threat, but the conservation methods and focus on the species are promising. 

Brown Bear

One of the endemic birds of New Zealand was the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) which is extinct now. Since the human invasion of New Zealand, the species was declining and it became extinct in the 20th century. Many bird species on this planet display sexual dimorphism, mostly in colour or size. But surprisingly, the Huia’s sex can be differentiated from the bill. The female has a slightly longer curved bill whereas the male has a shorter bill. 


Another endemic species from New Zealand is the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), which is also on the brink of extinction. Since the human arrival to the islands of New Zealand, the Kakapo has been facing threats. The pets introduced by humans easily caught these flightless birds. There were no natural predators for these birds and flight had not evolved in them. Fortunately, the dedicated conservation efforts have protected the species from extinction. 


Like the Huia from New Zealand, the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) from Australia is also extinct. Humans moved to Australia about 45,000 years ago. The Tasmanian island drifted away from Australia 12,000 years ago along with the humans who were living there. Along with human ancestors, the Thylacine became extinct in the 19th century, after the arrival of the British. 


Most extinct species have a common reason for their decline: humans. But there is hope of bringing back some of the species from their endangered state with conservation efforts and awareness. 

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine June 2022. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal


Read my below articles also and leave your comments.

  1. Lunch With a Falcon
  2. Reclamation in Kuthiraiyar
  3. The remaining grasslands of Palani Hills
  4. Palani Hills - Shrinking Heaven
  5. Glatt : A Swiss River
  6. Painted Beauty
  7. The Gateway to Paradise

Post a Comment


  1. Very interesting write up about some of the species that are on the brink of extinction

  2. Very good article which helps to know about these species with picture that are at the verge of its extinction in wild. Good write up 👏🏻

  3. Interesting Satheesh !

  4. Great one buddy !!!

  5. Nicely written with very good pictures...👌👌
    Great work to continue forever...👍👍👍

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience👏.. intersting one💯