200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 8: “Diorama Digest ”

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photo of opaki diorama
Opaki diorama in Africa Hall

Diorama Digest

One goal of many of the early Academy diorama expeditions was to collect a “family group” of one adult male, one adult female, and one juvenile to display in lifelike dioramas within the museum. In the explorers' opinion, this composition would allow visitors to see the differences between male and female members of the same animal group—even if it didn’t reflect the reality of nature. When you visit the museum, make sure to check out the gorilla and sable antelope dioramas, which provide good examples of these “family groups.”

The okapi diorama also was supposed to depict a family, but the animal is so secretive that the field scientists were only able to collect a female and calf. George Vanderbilt, the sponsor of the trip, was sorely disappointed that he wasn't able to find a male okapi. Still hopeful, Vanderbilt left his permits with his local hunting guide Baron von Blixen, whose wife Karen wrote Out of Africa under the pen name of Isak Dinesen. Vanderbilt was so confident that von Blixen would find a male that he instructed the director of exhibits to leave a space for it in the diorama. Ironically, the male okapi never materialized!

Can you pick out the spot reserved for the missing male okapi? Visit the Academy to find out!

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