10 Sights and Exhibits You Must See at the National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History celebrated its first anniversary on May 17, 2019. To commemorate this special event, we decided to re-visit the museum and get a second look at its must-see exhibits.
Designed in neo-classical style in 1940 by the architect Antonio Toledo, it was originally designated as the Agriculture and Commerce Building. The structure was reconstructed following its destruction in the Battle of Manila during WWII.
The building was later used by the Department of Tourism until 2015, when it was turned over to the National Museum, which designated it for use as the National Museum of Natural History. With its original architectural features preserved, the building is an example of adaptive reuse for heritage conservation. With cultural preservation foremost in mind, architect Dominic Galicia made no changes to the façade of the building and instead, focused on redesigning the interiors of the museum.
With four floors of 12 galleries, the museum presents a plethora of fascinating specimens from replicas of animals such as Lolong, the largest crocodile in captivity, to rainforest dioramas. It is recommended that museum-goers explore from the highest floor to the lowest, as the exhibits are arranged per eco-system: The upper floors display mountains and forests and the lower floors showcase the wetlands and underwater realms.
Here is our list of the 10 sights you shouldn’t miss on your next visit to the museum:
1. The Tree of Life
Conceptualized by architect Dominic Galicia and his wife, interior designer Tina Periquet Galicia, the tree of life is enough of a reason to visit the museum. The designers were challenged to enclose the middle garden with a strong support for the roof, and had the bright idea to design the eye-catching tree inspired by the structure of a DNA strand. The tree, which is known to be a symbol of life, growth, origins, and heritage, seemed to be the perfect fit. Giving access to the various floors of the museum, the Tree of Life houses the main elevator, connecting the glass dome to the atrium’s ground floor.
2. Animal Banners in the Central Hall
Upon entering the museum, guests will not miss three oversized banners hanging against the double height walls of the lobby atrium of the building. These banners showcase beautifully rendered depictions of three of the most legendary animals that inhabit the Philippines, two of which are also endangered endemic species: the tarsier found in Bohol and the Philippine Eagle, one of the largest and most powerful eagle species in the world. The last banner displays a grouping of carabaos, the iconic beast of burden.
3. Replica and Skeleton of Lolong
On September 3, 2011, the largest crocodile in the world to be held in captivity was discovered in a river in Agusan del Sur in Mindanao. Named after Ernesto “Lolong” Coñate, a crocodile hunter who died while in the search for the crocodile, Lolong spanned 20 feet and 3 inches. After his death on February 10, 2013, it took about a year to complete a taxidermied replica of the reptile. The replica is as close as one will ever get to seeing the famed crocodile that made the Guinness World Records in 2012.
4. The Philippine Eagle
Also known as the monkey-eating eagle, the Philippine Eagle is one of the rarest and top three largest existing eagles in the world, weighing about eight kilograms, with a wingspan over seven feet. Only an estimated 600 eagles can be found in Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. The life-like specimen with dramatically spread wings is seen perched on a branch of a tree, with its nest right below, giving viewers a look at the sizeable eggs within, which are laid by the female eagle only once every two years.
5. The Megalodon Shark Jaw Replica
Known to be one of the largest extinct marine predators in the ocean, the megalodon shark’s teeth were found in Pangasinan and Cagayan, before two more sets were discovered in Samar and Bohol. These serve as the only proof of the extinct shark’s teeth in the Philippines, with one sizeable tooth measuring about 10 centimeters in height. To put things into perspective, the display showcases the comparison between the much smaller jaws of a present-day bull shark and that of the spectacular megalodon shark.
6. Paintings of Philippine Orchids by Tomas Bernardo
Interestingly, the Natural Museum has a small range of artistic works amid all the flora, fauna, and geological specimens. A series of beautiful sketches of Philippine orchids by Tomas Bernardo line the hallway of the third floor, a suitable display of visual arts in the museum. The works were commissioned by Dr. Eduardo A. Quisumbing, a biologist and former Director of the National Museum, also known as the “Father of Philippine Orchidology.”
7. The Model of Submarine
As you make your way to the lower floors of the museum, the exhibits become more interactive. The Marine Life exhibit displays an engaging submarine replica, where guests can step inside the watercraft and get the complete experience, replete with sensing devices and the like. Floating just above the submarine is an outrigger canoe or banca, allowing the immersive experience to be as realistic as possible. The submarine has several portholes, allowing the viewer to take a peek at the various underwater life forms present in the ocean.
8. The Rainforest Diorama
Make your way through the impressive rainforest diorama, featuring a wide array of creatures thriving in the tropical forests. The Long-Tailed Macaque is commonly found throughout the Philippines and known to be the closest relative to humans apart from the great ape. The Northern Rufous Hornbill, also known as the kalaw, is endemic to the Philippines and endangered due to exhaustive hunting. These are among many animals one may get a closer look at while walking through a recreation of a rainforest.
9. The Nilad Mangrove Diorama
Similar to the rainforest diorama, walking through the recreated mangrove display allows visitors to get a closer look at the diverse animals commonly found in coastal swamps. Some of these include the Tabon Scrub Fowl, which is similar to a native chicken and inhabits vegetated coastal areas on smaller islands; the Collared Kingfisher, the most common kingfisher species in the country; and the Little Egret, often found in flocks in rice fields distant from coastal areas, rivers and tidal mudflats.
10. Fossilized bones of a Rhinoceros Philippinensis
Before exiting the museum on the first floor, make sure to take a look at these rare bones of a Rhinoceros Philippinensis, dating back to roughly 700,000 years ago. Thirteen bones were excavated in Rizal, Kalinga province and show evidence of cut marks presumably by humans. A tooth of the creature, a manifestation of the animal’s age as well as the early humans that hunted it, and lithic (stone) artifacts including tools found with the butchered remains of the animal can be viewed as well.
The National Museum of Natural History is located at Teodoro F. Valencia Circle, Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila with free entry, open from Tuesday to Sunday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).