What you can see at the newly-opened National Museum of Natural History

Amanda T. Lago
What you can see at the newly-opened National Museum of Natural History

Photo by Martin San Diego/Rapple

The museum's doors are finally open – and admission is free!

MANILA, Philippines – The much-awaited National Museum of Natural History opened to the public on Friday, May 18, International Museum Day.

Crowds trooped to the building, now part of the National Museum complex which also includes the Fine Arts and Anthropology museums.

The museum displays mostly new material, and even old material that have not been on display since the early 1990s – so there’s definitely a lot of exciting pieces to see. Here are just some of them:

Lolong’s skin and skeleton

LOLONG. A replica of the record-breaking crocodile is on display, and will eventually be replaced by the actual taxidermied specimen. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

SKELETON. Lolong's skeleton hangs from the museum's ceiling. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

Lolong was the largest crocodile in captivity, and at the museum, you can see just how large he was exactly. His skeleton is suspended from the ceiling of the building’s Ayala Reception Hall on the second floor, while a replica of his figure is on display near the upper entrance. The actual taxidermied figure of Lolong that will eventually replace the replica is still being prepared for display, but it can be glimpsed from the windows of a still-restricted room.

PHILIPPINE FAUNA. Taxidermied specimens of local animals are on display, such as this spot-billed pelican, which has since become extirpated. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

The museum also houses taxidermied specimens of other interesting creatures, such as the Spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus Philippinensis) which was first discovered in the Philippines, but became locally extinct in the 1960s.

Botanical illustrations and paintings

BOTANICAL ILLUSTRATIONS. These sketches are part of a temporary exhibition on the country's early naturalists. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

ART MEETS SCIENCE. Paintings of different species of Philippine orchids are on display. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

While this museum is all about science, visitors can also get treated to beautiful artwork in the form of botanical illustrations and paintings. A temporary exhibit on the pioneer naturalists of the Philippines showcases the botanical sketches of early naturalists – which are not only beautiful to look at, but integral to their scientific process. At the same time, paintings of Philippine orchids by Tomas Bernardo are also up for viewing.

The earth’s biosphere at a glance

AT A GLANCE. This globe maps out the earth's biosphere. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

A trippy globe in the middle of one of the museum’s galleries shows snapshots of the earth’s biosphere, and how it was affected by various factors, including the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the El Niño phenomenon in 1997, and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

The globe shows just how much climate change affects the environment – and if you feel particularly moved by it, you can let it out in the nearby activity corner, where guests are encouraged to write down their proposed solutions to climate change.

Mini-mangrove forest and beaches recreated

TREES ON DISPLAY. A small recreation of a mangrove forest also includes wildlife that have made mangroves their natural habitat. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

HATCHING DAY. A diorama shows how turtles hatch from their eggs, kept in a nest called a clutch. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

Perhaps one of the most picturesque galleries is the one that recreates a mangrove forest and a beach, but beyond being Instagram-worthy, the gallery also shows how important these areas are, and educates visitors on the roles they play in the environment.

A marine life exhibit

GENTLE GIANTS. Figures of a manta ray and a whale shark at the center of the Marine Life exhibit. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

One of the museum’s galleries will have you singing “Under the Sea” as it focuses on the rich marine life in the Philippines. It includes preserved specimens of crustaceans, starfish, and a sizable sea turtle. In the center of the gallery, there are also figures of a manta ray and a whale shark, as well as an interactive submarine, with footage of sea creatures underwater.

WORK IN PROGRESS. The skeleton of a sperm whale is still being prepared in an as yet-restricted room in the museum. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

The museum also has a sperm whale skeleton, though like Lolong’s skin, it is still being prepared, and can only be glimpsed through a restricted-section window.

The building itself!

HISTORIC HALLWAYS. The building's neoclassical glory is restored, as seen in the museum's entrance hall. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

Housed in what used to be the Department of Tourism headquarters, the museum structure itself is a sight to behold, so give yourself some time to marvel at the interior design and architecture too. As museum trustee Maria Isabel Ongpin said, the building is a perfect example of adaptive reuse – the product of careful renovation and retrofitting.

TREE OF LIFE. The glass elevator and canopy-inspired ceiling form the building's centerpiece. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

The elevator in the center of the entrance hallway, called the Tree of Life, is particularly eye-catching as it leads up to the canopy inspired-ceiling that brings in a generous amount of natural light and casts pretty shadow patterns on the floor on a sunny day.

So far, only exhibits up to the 3rd floor are open for viewing, as the ones on the upper floors are still in progress.

Once the museum is fully open, the ideal way to see it is to take the elevator straight up to the top floor, and work your way down through the levels via the ramps. (Fun fact: the arrangement of the exhibits mirror nature so that the exhibits on the upper floors focus on high altitude environments like mountains and forests, and the ones on the lower levels focus on shore-level and underwater environments.)

Admission to the museum is free not only on International Museum Day, but also on regular days – which is just as well, because with so much to see, it’s a place that almost demands a return visit. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.