The KZN Museum, Pietermaritzburg
By Garth Johnstone
A solitary bull elephant, “KwaZulu-Natal’s last wild elephant”, which was reportedly well known to farmers around the Umfolozi Flats at the time, was shot and injured by an induna who was out hunting in the Mtubatuba area in 1916.
Sadly, the animal never recovered and eventually perished in a swamp.
At the request of the then Natal Museum, the government instructed the chief game conservator for Zululand to retrieve the animal’s skull and skeleton, which was to be kept on display.
In an enterprise which took more than a year, the remains were transported via ox cart and rail to the museum in Pietermaritzburg.
The bull elephant’s remains form an impressive centrepiece in the Warren Mammal Hall at the KZN Museum, beautifully preserved, along with text recording its interesting story.
The skeleton is at home among recreations of many of the world’s great animals, birds, primates, buck, predators, reptiles, insects, and others.
A visit to the museum is well worth it, for the variety, the fun and the educational aspect. It is highly recommended for children, school groups and students.
Documents provided by the museum record that it was part of the Natal Society from its inception in 1851. The museum was established as a separate institution in 1902 and a new building was erected at the present site in Jabu Ndlovu Street (formerly Loop Street). It opened in November 1904.
I found it quite difficult to get through all the exhibits in an hour-and-a-half and, if I’d had the time, could quite easily have taken a break and continued exploring for another hour or two.
The museum includes African and Foreign Mammal Galleries, Primate Gallery, Bird Galleries, Insect Exhibition, Dinosaur Gallery, Hall of African Cultures, Human Origins Exhibit, Iron Age Exhibit, Marine Gallery, Portuguese Gallery, Settler History Gallery, Sisonke Gallery, Snake Display, Stone Age Exhibit, Students’ Hall and Indian Gallery (celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indian people in South Africa, focusing on, but not limited to, the Pietermaritzburg community).
The exhibits include images; text; life-size recreations of animals and birds etc; audiovisual aspects; recreations of environments, such as a cave inhabited by San people, including paintings; an historical section playing interviews with political leaders; a display of improvised weapons used during political violence in the 1990s, and a minibus taxi with a television screen and audiovisual loop.
A Victorian-era “street”, with rooms showing examples of a bedroom, entrance hall, study, drawing room, pawn shop, apothecary, forge and wheelwright, with tools, implements and furniture, catches the eye.
For schools, curriculum-enrichment lectures are available for all grades. Tours are offered for school groups, university students and members of the public (minimum group of 10). Educator workshops are also held twice a year.
Some things worth noting if you are planning to visit: the museum has airconditioning and it is a very comfortable space on a hot day. The facility has a canteen and good toilet facilities. Parking is a bit of a hassle, though. I had to park about 100m away, but being close to police HQ and the detectives’ branch, security is visible and the environment safe.
The museum is also wheelchair friendly. Call before visiting for more information or ask at reception for assistance.
Hours: Mondays to Fridays, 8.15am to 4.30pm; Saturdays 9am to 4pm; Sundays 10am to 3pm. Cost: R10. Address: 237 Jabu Ndlovu Street, Pietermaritzburg.
Tel: 033 341 0536/345 1404.