Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Burying the Rhinoceros Head

     In 1974 I moved to Sydney and joined the School of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University as a postgraduate. And the first organization I met was a group of very earnest undergraduates called (I think) the Biological Sciences Club. I never joined in any of their projects, but I remember that the first one for the year was "Burying the Rhinoceros Head".
     To understand this, you must know that the school contained a small museum, which the curator was determined to make into a comprehensive museum. Indeed, at one point my studies took me to the rear (non-public) areas of the Taronga Park Zoo, and upon my return, I informed the curator that I had just seen a newly deceased pygmy hippopotamus there. Almost overcome with joy, the curator immediately got on the phone and asked the zoo if he could have the body. The zoo wondered how on earth the news had got out so quickly.
     Anyway, the museum had earlier obtained the head of a rhinoceros, which the Club immediately adopted as their project, carrying it to a remote beach somewhere in the vicinity of Sydney, and burying it in the intertidal zone. This is not such a bizarre activity as you might think. When you visit a museum, and view the whitened bones of the specimens on display, you probably never thought to ask how the flesh was removed. Do you imagine some hapless museum worker painstakingly scrapped and picked it clean? The most common method is to feed it to a special colony of flesh-eating beetles, who will get into every narrow nook and cranny, and do their job. In the absence of such minuscule servants, an alternative is to turn it over to the worms and crustacea which inhabit the sand between high and low water mark.
     So, a few months later, a new project arose: "Digging Up the Rhinoceros Head". Would you believe, they couldn't find it!
    Who knows? One day, perhaps after a heavy storm, you will read a news report of a mysterious rhinoceros skull turning up on a beach near Sydney, and everyone will wonder where it came from. When that happens, remember: you read it here first.

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