Extinction or Survival? – The Giant Panda

Manchester Museum’s new exhibition, Extinction or Survival? is now open. Today’s blog is a guest post by Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology, taking a closer look at one of the iconic animals in the new exhibition.

For more about animals and nature, have a look at the Curator’s blog, Nature Manchester

Extinction or Survival? is open now and runs until 20th April 2017. And you can join the conversation now at #MMExtinctionSurvival.


The Story of the Giant Panda

One of the star exhibits in Extinction or Survival? is a Giant Panda that has had an incredible history. If I ever write a book on ‘taxidermied animals I know too much about’ this will be one of them.


The ‘Brocklehurst Panda’, currently on display in Manchester Museum’s ‘Extinction or Survival?’ exhibition, on loan from West Park Museum, Macclesfield. (Photo: Sarah Scott)

The Giant Panda was first made known to western science by a French missionary, Pere Armand David. He was a Lazarist (French Lazarists were free to travel throughout China while the British were restricted to Treat Ports) who collected with support from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. He sent specimens of the Giant Panda back to Paris. A skeleton on display in the Anatomy Museum is, I think, from him (but I might be wrong).

The American president Theodore Roosevelt, in addition to being a politician, was a dedicated big game hunter – remember the story of the ‘teddy bear’, named after an act of ‘mercy’ from him for not shooting a mother bear. He had two sons, Kermit (yes, that is a name) and Theodore Jr., like their father, they were keen big game hunters and shot a Giant Panda in 1928.


Headline news in May 1929. (Image from: smithsonianmag.com)

Henry Courtney Brocklehurst (1888–1942), from a wealthy Macclesfield family involved in silk production, shot a Panda in NW China in 1935; a newspaper reported it as ‘man travels 28,000 miles to fire one shot’.


Report in ‘The Sidney Morning Herald’, August 22, 1935, originally reported in the Daily Telegraph. (Image and full report available from National Library of Australia)

This panda was mounted by the famous firm of Rowland Ward of Piccadilly, and displayed there for a while (see Times 28 Nov 1936, p.11).

Fast forward to 1937, in the run up to the Second World War, the Germans (Nazis) organised an International Hunting Exhibition, led by Hermann Goering, leader of what became the Luftwaffe and ardent hunter (Reich Master of the Hunt).

Berlin, Internationale Jagdausstellung

Hermann Goering at the Internationale Jagdausstellung, Berlin, 1937 (Bundesarchiv Bild 183-C15374. Image from: commons.wikimedia.org)

Sir Nevile Henderson wrote in the Life Magazine on how the British took part in the exhibition in a diplomatic attempt to avert World War II. The panda is mentioned on p.92 of the article.

706_001One of the postcards produced for the Internationale Jagdausstellung, Berlin, 1937 (Image from: images.delcampe.com)

The Field (the country and shooting magazine) subsequently organised an exhibition in London of the trophies sent from Britain for the exhibition in Berlin, a report of which can be found in the Times, 13 Jan 1938, p.6. Another report on the hunting exhibition appeared in the Times 13 Jan 1938, mentioning the Panda.

Brocklehurst, rather ironically, wrote on ‘Hunting the Panda’ in the Times, 17 Jan 1939, p.8, berating the growing market for sending live Pandas from China to the West, a trade (that is what it is) that has continued to this day. Brocklehurst was formerly a game warden in Sudan, and a keen conservationist. He wrote,

“when […] a market is created for a living animal or bird, whether it be the giant panda, the horn of the rhinoceros, the gland of the musk deer, or the feathers of the egret, it undoubtedly becomes the thin end of the wedge of extermination.”


Lieutenant (later Captain) Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, c. 1917 (Image from: longwaytotipperary.ul.ie)

Brocklehurst was incredibly well travelled, to the Arctic, China, Burma and Sudan, where he was the Chief Game Warden, responsible for protecting White Rhinos among other things. He set up a zoo in Staffordshire, from which Red-necked Wallabies escaped. They lived on the hillsides of the Roaches until the end of the 20th century (we have lots of specimens of these in the Museum).

There is a Panda in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin that was, traditionally, called the Brocklehurst Panda. There is some confusion somewhere, but it is pretty clear that Brocklehurst only shot one Panda, and that is surely the one from Macclesfield.

Henry McGhie
Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology, Manchester Museum

The Giant Panda is on display in the Extinction or Survival? exhibition at Manchester Museum, which is open now and runs until 20th April 2017. And you can join the conversation now at #MMExtinctionSurvival.

For more about animals and nature, have a look at the Curator’s blog, Nature Manchester

And have a look at more animal stories from the Visitor Team:
The Nocturnal Journals
Animal Kingdom – Two by Two
The Bison – Emperor of the Forest
The War of the Snails, Round One: The Home Favourite


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