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Latino Daily News

Sunday December 25, 2011

Mexico Preserves Biggest Mammal Collection in Latin America

Mexican researchers presented a collection of more than 46,000 mammal specimens preserved in different ways, many of them extinct, with the aim of publishing the inventory and disseminating knowledge about them in the coming years.

The National Mammal Collection is the biggest and oldest in Latin America and “keeps growing, because there are still unexplored parts of the country,” curator Fernando Cervantes Reza said in a communique.

The collection also includes species from Europe, he said.

The Biology Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, is in charge of safeguarding the collection that was begun in 1947, Cervantes said.

He said that 90 percent of the country’s mammal species discovered to date are represented there, including specimens preserved in different ways, such a hides of everything from mice to jaguars, skeletons including the hide, skulls alone, hides plus skulls, and hides with skeletons including the skull.

He said the collection also has frozen tissue in storage, with 3,500 examples of mammals from all over the country, as well as bacula (bones found in the penis of most mammals, specifically in insectivores, rodents, carnivores and primates) and plaster casts of foot/paw/hoof prints.

“There are species that no longer exist in the wild but that survive in captivity - in this collection they are represented in the form of hides, skulls, skeletons and frozen tissue, such as the Mexican wolf, of which only a few remain in zoos and certain natural areas, and the vaquita porpoise, also in danger of extinction,” he said.

“This is a very important natural treasure because it has more specimens than any other collection. It also has a wide diversity of taxonomic groups: rodents, carnivores, deer, marine mammals and more,” he said.

According to the curator, the collection meets the highest international standards in the way the specimens are treated, labeled, organized, preserved, identified, classified, stored and protected against dust, water and insects, and in how the information is provided to users.

He said that this natural heritage collection is among those that researchers use most to obtain data about these animals, and said that the general public can also consult the entire catalogue on the institute’s Web site.

“This project has been going on for many years - now the decision has been taken to unify it and make it available free, together with other UNAM Web sites, for all users, not only in Mexico but around the world,” he said.

The collection is the only one in the region that has an Associated Molecular Biology Laboratory, as well as being “a source of information for the three levels of government interested in planning environmental policy,” he said.