Bishkek is rich in some of the most unusual museums I have ever witnessed. Topping my personal list is the Zoological Museum of the Biology and Soil Institute, a tiny gem located along one of the city’s major thoroughfares, Chuy Avenue.
The first iteration of the zoological museum opened in 1946 on Ala-Too Square. However, it was moved in 2004, and attached to the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic’s Institute of Biology and Soil Science. The taxidermied specimens displayed in the museum were donated by Russian travelers in Central Asia and Soviet zoologists, notably T.B. Bayzakov and A. Ya Vasiliev, and originate from Kyrgyzstan. Fauna from the Tien Shan Mountains is heavily featured as it is one of the more biodiverse regions in Kyrgyzstan.
In fact, the region is one the most biodiverse in the world. The museum works in part, to aid the study of this biodiversity and how it can be preserved in the modern world. It actively supports scientific research undertaken by its staff on local ecological and zoological issues. In addition to its standard exhibits, it also hosts regular educational events for school children on local fauna, ecological problems, and the fundamentals of conservation in addition to showing how local fauna is represented in local folklore.
When visiting the museum, your museum experience begins at the welcome desk, where the surrounding walls are flanked with an extensive bug collection alongside informational posters about a handful of the museum’s contributors. A woman working the desk asked us to pay an entry fee of 50 som (about 60 cents) then left us to our own devices to explore.
Moving away from the welcome desk, we entered a room where birds occupy the front half of the room and mammals are towards the back end. While the space was tidy, the smell produced by the old specimens and the chemicals used to continually preserve them abounded. However, setting aside the smell, it was my favorite room overall. There were Soviet posters detailing the soil composition of varying areas in Kyrgyzstan, a shelf containing a myriad of bird eggs, a well-preserved duck with a blue beak, and a snow leopard attacking an ibex.
Continuing forward, we entered the final room of the museum, the fish and reptiles room, though, contrary to its name, some foxes, beavers, and other mammals are showcased there as well. A display that firmly sticks in my memory was one that referenced Aesop’s fable, The Fox and the Grapes. In the display, a bunch of tantalizing grapes is hardly out of reach for an esurient fox attempting to snatch them.
Kyrgyzstan offers one of Central Asia’s densest concentrations of biodiversity. Despite Kyrgyzstan occupying a mere 0.1% of Earth’s total land area, it hosts 3% of the world’s animal species. As the museum website states:
“the concentration of species is an order of magnitude higher than the average for the planet. The Tien Shan is one of the world’s centers of biodiversity, so the study and conservation of the flora and fauna of the country is the primary task of our state and biologists.
“The fauna of Kyrgyzstan includes more than 15 thousand species of invertebrates, about 70 species of fish, 40 species of reptiles, 389 species of birds, 83 species of mammals. 90 rare and endangered species of animals are included in the Red Book of Kyrgyzstan, including: mountain goose, bustard, little bustard, golden eagle, bearded vulture, gyrfalcon, white stork, whooper swan, pelicans, flamingos, snow leopard, lynx, manul, deer, argali , brown bear, etc.”
The Zoological Museum of the Biology and Soil Institute showcases this fact well in terms of the number of creatures represented, and I would highly recommend those interested in nature and taxidermy to pay the museum a visit.
The museum is tiny, but also right next to the Geological and Mineralogical Museum, and not far from Asia Mall. It is a brief 20-30 minute marshrutka ride from the London School, where SRAS programs in Kyrgyzstan are based. Thus, you can also combine this into a larger event for the day with another museum, shopping, and lunch as well.