Rare specimens help Pember support pigeon project

When Franklin Pember collected three passenger pigeons for his museum in the late 1800s, he probably didn’t realize the species would soon go extinct.

He also might not have realized how important those samples would become.

Only 120 sets of passenger pigeon eggs are known to exist. The Pember Museum is home to three such sets.

The museum also has three of only 1,500 full pigeon specimens in museums throughout the world, one of which is on loan to the Adirondack Museum.

The Pember Board of Trustees recently voted to officially join in the sponsorship of the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. This move comes in conjunction with Project Passenger Pigeon, which is being marked on Sept. 1 of next year.

“The story of the passenger pigeon is unlike that of any other bird. With a likely population between 3 and 5 billion, it was the most abundant bird in North America and probably the world. Yet human exploitation drove this species to extinction over the course of a few decades,” said Bo Young, a member of the board.

Pat Wesner, museum director, said joining the sponsorship means the museum supports it and will try to hold regular, relevant activities. Additionally, Young said there’s been talk of the possibility to “Jurassic Park” the bird, using extant DNA to clone and reproduce a passenger pigeon.

“If that happens, that would be really neat, but it’s all very much in the preliminary stages,” Wesner said. She said it’s “pretty amazing” the Pember has the passenger pigeon and egg specimens it does, which is rare.

The board learned of the project after Young found an article online.

“Our collections are pretty significant in the museum world, and I don’t think a lot of local people are aware of that,” Wesner said. She said she spoke with an official about the museum’s pigeons after hearing about some being found in a small museum in Texas.

“They said you should put those in a storage area. We’re a museum—we have all these rare specimens here for people to see, not to put back in storage—that’s why we exist,” she said.

She said it’s not just the pigeons, but a whole slew of other extinct and rare species at the museum, most of which are thoroughly documented.

“It’s really great that the Pember has been this sort of treasure chest keeping these specimens safe all these years,” she said.

Next year, 2014, marks 100 years since the passenger pigeon went extinct. The project will “mark this anniversary and promote the conservation of species and habitat, strengthen the relationship between people and nature, and foster the sustainable use of natural resources,” Young said.

For more information about the museum visit www.pembermuseum.com or call 642-1515.  

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