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building Mauritskade 61


The Zoological Museum Amsterdam

The Zoological Museum of Amsterdam is part of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Amsterdam.

The Museum curates more than 13 million animal specimens with special strengths in the South East Asian and South American/ Caribbean fauna, as well as in the marine fauna. The museum's mission is to maintain and develop its collections and to manage these as a facility for scientific research and public education.

If you are looking for an opportunity for financial support to visit the collections of the Zoological Museum Amsterdam, check out the new SYNTHESYS program.

Research in the ZMA is linked to the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, IBED


The museum is divided into three sections:





Mission of the ZMA

Living organisms have shaped the earth and its environment almost since the birth of our planet. As such, organisms are crucial for mankind, since our very life and health depend strongly on them. Most present day species are animals, and it is therefore surprising that these are still largely unknown. We continue to struggle with attempts to categorize animal life into distinct species.

As a scientific organization, one of the things the Zoological Museum strives to elucidate is the accurate identification of and the genealogical relationships between species. This is crucial work for all biologists, since accurate species identification in a genealogical nexus is critical for carrying on reproducible experimental research. However, basic taxonomic research, aimed at developing stable names and classifications and understanding biodiversity, is closely intertwined with scientific work on evolutionary processes and patterns. In the course of this research, a variety of biological and mathematical methods is employed to build taxonomies and phylogenies. Because systems of classification are not perfect in capturing the complexity of life, the continued availability of biological research collections is crucial. The collections of the Zoological Museum preserve the type specimens that formally link taxa to names; they provide an objective testimony of the occurrence of a taxon at specific times and places they permit us to understand how scientists in the past constituted taxa; and finally they provide the materials for further research.

The Museum's mission is to maintain and develop its scientific collections, and to manage these as a large scale facility for continued scientific research and higher education. The facility is based on large and well-documented collections of about 13 million zoological specimens, with supporting laboratories, and an information technology unit. The collection policy places emphasis on building on the specific strengths in relation to the major research lines in University of Amsterdam.

Maintenance of the collections involves the preservation and protection of organisms, frozen tissues, and microscopic slides. The maintenance systems of these collections are always kept in accordance with the latest standards and techniques available in the field. The scientific sections of the Museum are actively involved in various research projects, mostly as part of international programs. Every year, many visiting researchers from various national and international user groups work in the Museum collections. The Museum also meets its responsibilities to the general public. Well known is the on-going series of changing exhibitions in Artis, the zoo of Amsterdam. This co-operation with the zoo results in about half a million visitors every year to its exhibitions. Another example is our engagement in survey work related to environmental monitoring and in the search for natural products. This is done in co-operation with both public agencies and research groups operating outside of the field of pure biology.



History of the ZMA

By: drs. C.S. Roselaar, Information Officer, Bird Department

The foundation for the Zoölogical Museum Amsterdam was laid when the gentlemen Westerman, Werlemann, and Weismuller founded the Zoological Society 'Natura Artis Magistra' in May 1838. The purpose of this Society (which became 'Royal' in 1852) was to entertain and educate the members of the society by exhibiting live animals, and to inspire artists by showing them the richness of nature. Due to lack of live animals, the new Society board, formed by the 3 forementioned gentlemen, started by buying a set of stuffed animals, privately mounted by Mr Meindert Draak, an attendant of the Amsterdam Burgher-orphanage, where the animals had been on show in the attic since the summer of 1837. Later in 1838, the board managed to buy the estate 'Middenhof' in the Plantage, a rural area at the outskirts of Amsterdam.

This estate, in which the first live animals were soon on show, gradually became larger by acquisition of neighbouring nursery-gardens and estates, and now forms the well-known 'Artis'-Zoo. Draak was appointed as the first Director of the Society, and thus was responsible for the well-being of the (live and dead) animals; also, he served as a caretaker in the Society's meeting room, and was responsible for the the requirements of the (wealthy) visiting members. Alas, being fond of liquor, Draak rapidly depleted the Society's store-room, and later on was even accused of serving 'liquor' made from animals-on-spirit to the esteemed guests. He was urged to leave the Society in February 1840, taking his stuffed animals with him. However, the foundation of a exhibition of live and dead animals had been laid, and quite a number of animals were still on show, including rarities from the 'travelling menagerie' of Cornelis van Aken, bought in 1839. Draak was succeeded as Director by G. F. Westerman, one of the 3 initiators of the Society, and under Westerman's leadership, which lasted until 1890, the Society grew rapidly, both in members, in surface available for live animals on show, and in the numbers of dead animals on exhibition in the exposition halls.

As the live animals in the collection generally did not survive long (the first taxidermist of the Society, C. V. O. Bouwmeester sometimes could hardly cope with the dead ones available) the collection of mounted animals soon became much larger than the live ones. The surplus of dead animals was offered to private dealers of natural history objects, like G. A. Frank of Amsterdam, in exchange for other more interesting animals. As Westerman did not consider himself to be a scientist, unknown animals were sent to the Leiden Museum for identification and once dead were added to that collection, with the consequence that many animals first recognized as new by Westerman when alive in Amsterdam were described by Schlegel and others and stored as type specimens in Leiden (e.g., Westerman's Eclectus Parrot Eclectus westermani, Southern Crowned-pigeon Goura scheepmakeri), with Amsterdam receiving a duplicate at best.

The first collections of the Society's Zoological Museum were mainly educational and did not meet the requirements of present-day scientific collections. For instance, collecting data were generally lacking, or were even purposefully thrown away, and the locality as given on the stands of the animals only reflected the then-known distributional range. This situation changed in the 1870's. The first, a scientific assistant was employed by the Society (R. T. Maitland). Secondly, a new building was erected in 1872 (now housing the library), the Museum Fauna Neerlandica, in response to the general demand to see more of the local animal life, in which the full variation of the morphology of all animals living in the Netherlands was to be shown, and thus for the first time large series of specimens of each species were exhibited, provided with exact localities and collection data (and, probably the best stimulant for increasing a collection, the name of the donator). Apart from gifts of dead animals, many of the animals shown in the new (sub)museum were added by H. Koller, an avid collector and taxidermist, employed by the Society from 1872-1891. Finally, the Amsterdam 'Atheneum Illustre' received formal governmental recognition as a Municipal University in 1877; with the arrival in 1879 of Max Weber, the first prosector (later professor) in anatomy and morphology, a scientific collection was started, which from 1882 was housed in a new building shared with the Society on the Society's grounds (the present Aquarium Building).

In an agreement between the Municipal University (Gemeente Universiteit,) and the Society it was arranged that the collections of both were united (though the items each were labelled 'A' [Artis] for the Society's belongings and 'G' [Gemeente] for those of the University), with daily care provided by taxidermists and collection managers employed by the Society and scientific curatorship by scientists employed by the university. Animals died in the Society's zoo were made available for anatomical or morphological research in the university. As the zoo was one of the richest in the world in number of species, a remarkably broad spectrum of animals entered the anatomical laboratories of the university, and (for instance) the entire phylogeny of the higher taxa of birds is at present still based largely on the anatomical and morphological work of Max Fürbringer, which in turn was based on the very diverse sample of birds received from the Amsterdam zoo in the 1880's.

The cooperation between University and Society and the changed ideas about scientific collecting gave a big impetus to the development of the zoological museum. Within about a decade, c. 1875-1885, the collection changed from a show with samples of the beauty of nature to a much larger scientific collection. However, collections supervised by scientists employed by the university (molluscs, insects, fishes) often grew much faster than those supervised by collection managers employed by the Society (e.g., birds), and it was not unusual to exchange donated series of bird skins for more interesting fishes with other museums. Nevertheless, many collections of all groups of animals were received between 1880 and the 1930's, from private persons and institutions from all-over the world, and especially from the former Dutch colonies (present-day Indonesia, Surinam, and the Netherlands' Antilles), and these were either donated to the 'Gemeente' (Amsterdam Municipal University) or to 'Artis' (the Royal Zoological Society 'Natura Artis Magistra'); important additions included large samples of natural history items which had been on show on the First International Trade Exhibition in Amsterdam (1883) and the rich marine collection of the Siboga-expedition (1899-1900), organized by Max Weber.

During the economic recession in the 1930's, the Society neared bankruptcy. The idea arose of selling the more important collection items, like the the last Quagga Equus quagga, the Great Auk Pinguinus impennis with its egg, the Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productus, and other rare or extinct animals for which important sums of money could be obtained in the USA. The planned auction was cancelled when the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Province of North-Holland together bought all possessions of the Society on 28 August 1939. The grounds, stables, cages, and live animals were from then on let out to the Society for 1 guilder per annum, while other buildings and the entire zoological collection and library came to the Municipality, and so entirely became part of the Municipal University.

Increased availability of money after World War II and a rapidly growing number of interested biology students led to a new boom in development of the zoological collections from the 1950's to the 1970's: 12 scientists were employed by the museum (4 for vertebrates, 4 for insects, and 4 for other invertebrates), each with associated technicians, next to the 1-2 professors and a floating number of guest collaborators. Moreover, the collections became better housed: originally scattered over at least 10 old buildings mostly in and around the zoo, the museum gradually concentrated in a smaller number of more suitable buildings, especially after the change from Municipal University to a governmentally financed University of Amsterdam.