Prized stuffed caiman moves from Yorkshire to Lancashire after being returned to private school

A stuffed caiman which took pride of place at a Yorkshire museum for more than 50 years has been permanently removed.

The prized exhibit is part of a famous collection of preserved animals and objects which belonged to Victorian conservationist Charles Waterton. The collection was a popular display since being loaned to the Wakefield Museum in 1967. But more than 50 years on they have been returned to Stonyhurst College after the school asked for them back.

Stonyhurst, where Waterton was a pupil, will display them in a new gallery at the Roman Catholic boarding school near Clitheroe, in Lancashire.

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A ‘where is the caiman?’ sign, informing visitors of its disappearance, is in place at the museum.

The prized caiman has been removed from Wakefield MuseumThe prized caiman has been removed from Wakefield Museum
The prized caiman has been removed from Wakefield Museum

Michael Graham, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said: “The caiman has been a much-loved visitor and we were sad to see him go. He was a long-term loan at the museum and unfortunately, we had no choice but to return him once the loan ended. The good news is that there’s still plenty to see at our city museum and we have exciting plans for the future.”

Waterton was an environmentalist, eco-warrior and explorer who built the world’s first nature reserve at his home in Walton, near Wakefield. He acknowledged the damage that was being done to the environment by the industrial revolution and campaigned against pollution, poaching and land enclosure. Waterton, who died in 1865, was also a skilled taxidermist, preserving specimens he found on his travels abroad.

His collection of taxidermy was popular with visitors, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the museum. Waterton was an inspiration to broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough, who paid tribute to the naturalist when he visited the museum in 2013.

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The council insisted Waterton’s contribution to history will continue to be told. Its museum service still own an large collection of his personal letters and belongings. The museum is due to be relocated from Wakefield One, on Burton Street, to the former BHS building, near to the The Ridings shopping centre, as part of a £12m project. Some of the council’s most treasured artworks, which are currently under lock and key, could be put on display there.

Councillor Graham added: “One of our current exhibitions, ‘Moving Stories’, celebrates the museum’s story so far – as it marks its centenary year – and looks ahead to an exciting new chapter, as we develop the former BHS building in Wakefield city centre into a new library and museum.”