Mon, 22 Aug 1994

Bogor Museum needs serious attention

By Lenah Susianty

BOGOR, West Java (JP): All the rooms at the Bogor Zoological Museum are gloomy and stuffy. It is hot. There are no air- conditioners and the fans hanging from the ceiling don't work.

A couple of backpackers are looking at a diorama of monkey's species and four children in elementary school uniforms are discussing a stuffed 2,280 kilogram rhinoceros placed inside a glass box in the mammals room.

In other quiet rooms there are faded white wooden boxes, covered in graffiti, housing a lovely collection of butterflies. Some of the collections have information written in old Indonesian on yellowing paper. Some do not have English translations and some do not have any explanation at all.

A white-washed giant blue whale skeleton weighing 64,000 kilograms, from 1916, lies rigidly in a fenced hall. In a corner, some dark and dirty aquariums add to the impression of neglect.

It is very calm and silent. Dilapidated heads of deer and other animals on the walls remind us how old this museum is.

This is surely not what is expected of an institution which celebrates its 100th anniversary today.

If Dutch zoologist Koningsberger were still alive, he would be disappointed to see the museum he established in 1894 worse than it was 100 years ago.

No wonder that the old museum is not one of the places Indonesians prefer to visit.

Ratih, a mother of three, who was at the museum when The Jakarta Post visited recently, said that her children love to see the museum's collection of animals. However, the unfavorable ambience of the museum discourages her from taking them there often.

"It is very hot here with no ventilation and no parking lot," she lamented.

The number of visitors to the museum seems to support Ratih's opinion. There were only 85,000 to 90,000 visitors last year with 75,000 tickets sold. The number usually increases in holiday seasons, such as during June's school holidays. It certainly does not compare with museums at Taman Mini which are visited by an average of five million people annually, or with London's Natural History Museum which attracts thousands of people per day.


In 1850 the Dutch, through their cultuurstelsel (forced labor) policy, started planting export commodities such as pepper and coffee over huge areas. The change in planting system brought plant diseases caused by insects. To fight this the Dutch colonial government, in cooperation with Dutch private agricultural companies, hired a zoologist named Koningsberger to research possible solutions.

During this period, development of science and culture was the trend in Europe and also in Batavia (the old name of Jakarta). And an organization for the development of science and culture, known as Bataviasche genotschap vankunsten en wetenschappen, existed in Batavia.

Koningsberger, a supporter of the movement, realized that he had a rare opportunity to study tropical animals, which at that time were mysterious to Europeans, and spent his time in Indonesia collecting and studying animals and, specifically, insects.

His collection grew bigger and bigger and Koningsberger was given a building, which was continuously expanding, in the area of the Bogor Biological Park.

Koningsberger then proposed that private Dutch agricultural companies and the colonial government establish a zoological museum to safeguard the collection against the damaging humidity.

He also required a space where he could display his collection of insects to teach those working in agricultural fields about plant diseases.

In 1901, the complex of buildings previously used to accommodate his collection was officially utilized as Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, and was opened to the public in 1902.

"However, we consider that the museum was founded in 1894 because research and inventory of animals existing in Indonesia, which we are still doing today, had already started," Mohammad Amir, head of the Bogor Zoological Museum, told the Post recently.

During the Japanese occupation the museum was headed by a scientist engaged by Japan's Emperor Hirohito, who was also a biologist and had a great interest in the museum. Consequently, the museum was well cared for and Dutch scientists, who were prisoners of the war, worked at the museum.

From 1945 to 1949, during the Republican era, the Dutch continued to manage the museum. After 1949, an Indonesian agriculturist, Koesnoto, was appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture to head the museum. Even though it was led by an Indonesian its zoologists and scientists were foreigners, from Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and East European countries, who were interested in tropical zoology.

"The museum's large collection became a center of tropical zoology and we are still the biggest in Southeast Asia," Sampurno Kadarsan, the first Indonesian zoologist and now senior scientist at the museum, told the Post.

From 1960 the museum has been managed completely by Indonesians. Sampurno, who was educated as a medical entomologist in Maryland, U.S.A, was appointed to lead the zoologist working at the museum.

The museum, which has collected 20 percent of the insects, 80 percent of the mammals and birds and 30 percent of the invertebrates in Indonesia, is now managed by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Besides research, the Bogor Zoological Museum is also the scientific authority which organizes all activities related to the exportation and exploitation of animals.

Limited budget

Financial limitations have prevented the museum from developing into a modern, attractive tourist as well as scientific center.

"The budget for our museum is relatively small. It is the 'normal' case in Indonesia because our officials have not yet realized the importance of museums. Only several museums established by VIPs have big budgets," Amir said, refusing to disclose the museum's annual budget.

The salaries of its employees, including researchers, are not encouraging either.

To compensate for the small salaries, the researchers draw comfort from the reward extended whenever they discover a new species. Under the reward scheme, researchers may use their own names for the species they discover. An ecto-parasite, for instance, was named Haemaphysalis kadarsani after Sampurno Kadarsan.

A lack of space for exhibits and scientists also limits the development of the museum. Therefore, the museum, especially its exhibition rooms, remain as it was when it was established.

"Under the current atmosphere, scientists are not motivated because they cannot channel their ideas," he explained.

"In the 1970s we tried to renovate some of our displays by making diorama, for instance, but it is not easy because the rooms are too stuffy and lack good lighting," Sampurno said, adding that a big parking lot is also essential to lure more visitors.

Today the museum, which sports Komodo or Varanus komodoensis as its logo, exhibits 2,000 kinds of animals placed in 75 boxes and 60 diorama windows. Some replicas of big animals are also displayed in the 1,500-square-meter exhibition rooms.

"What we put in the exhibition rooms is only two percent of our total collection. We do not have adequate display space to exhibit all of the collection," Amir said, "Besides, most of our collections are scientific which may not interest people in general."

He added that there are more than 20,000 insects, 515 kinds of mammals and 1,519 kinds of reptiles in the collection, which increases by two to three percent annually.

Today there are 69 people working for the museum, but only 30 are scientists.

"Ideally, we are supposed to have around 200 scientists for our scientific and museum collection," Sampurno said, adding that graduates of teachers' training institutes are also required to provide information for the exhibits.

"A museum has an educational function. We hope that people leave this building with something to enrich their lives. Therefore, we must have educationalists to cooperate with artists and zoologists in presenting our collection. Unfortunately we don't even have an educationalist here," said Sampurno, who has worked for the museum since 1955 and is going to retire at the end of this month.

He added that volunteers are also needed in order to give more information to visitors.

Sampurno also believes that the private sector should pay more attention to the museum.

"During the Dutch colonial time this museum received the support of private companies, so why not now?" Sampurno said.