July 14th?, 2013

Three-channel video, sound, Albanian language with English subtitles
23 min. Ed. 5

This film is realized with the support of Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin.

A short introduction about the Natural Sector of the Museum of Kosovo.

In 1951 the Natural Sector opened as part of the Museum of Kosovo, and began to grow immediately, so much so that after five years it already had twelve employees. The number of specimens accumulated until the sector gained independence from the Museum of Kosovo, opening officially as the Museum of Natural History of Kosovo around 1956. From this mo¬ment, the large collection of different species of natural organisms increased even more rapidly, alongside the organisation of a small zoo where deer, squirrels, foxes, wolves, bears, and other wild animals were kept. The museum existed independently until 1964, when the former director retired, and with him half of the staff. After this period the Museum of Natural History was integrated once more as a department of the Museum of Kosovo.

The collection of the Natural Sector of the Museum of Kosovo was exhibited in the museum complex called ‘Emin Gjiku’, composed of four old houses which contained the carefully arranged museological treasures. The department of zoology comprised 850 entomological specimens including 27 fish specimens, 11 amphibians, 20 reptiles, 36 mammals, 577 winged animals belonging to 20 different categories, and 49 skeletons of other species. The department of botany also contained 222 different plant species. The Natural Sector had in total 1,812 specimens, some of which were lost during the war, when the Serbians transported them to Belgrade. Before then, all these specimens were part of a unique, permanent exhibition developed over a period of almost 50 years.

Prior to the end of the war, there had never been anyone of Albanian ethnicity working as a professional in the department, hence the majority of the archive material was written in Serbian. What is more, the section was not widely known to the local public.

After the war, and during the process of the department’s reactivation, I was appointed Director of the Sector. The conditions in which I found the museum were quite startling. I started to work first of all on restoring the garden, in which a large number of endemic plants grew, although they were already badly damaged. I pruned them, cultivated a number of new plants, and fixed up the place in general. The garden was the former entrance to the exhibition which the public passed through before reaching the zoological specimens. Of course, the specimens that were inside the building were also badly damaged. I found specimens of animals discarded in the garden, and after I began to try to restore the damage, citizens reported that some specimens had even been found outside the garden. These reports were perhaps the first contacts and signs of interest from fellow citizens in reawakening this institution.

The next task that seemed appropriate was to examine all of the archive material and translate it into Albanian and Latin, and to prepare for the museum’s reopening to the public. The reopening generated a great deal of interest, including visits from all primary and secondary schools in Pristina. This for me was a real moment of joy: the visitors were very happy, and often during the guided tours, they interrupted me to ask where everything had been until now; they could not believe that all these interesting and beautiful things existed in their city. Many schools also increased their weekly hours of biology lessons (to 18 hours for elementary schools, and 12 hours for middle schools).

The Natural Sector of the Museum of Kosovo existed in these buildings until the 16th June 2001, when the contents started to be moved out, as ordered by a previous mandate, with the aim of giving space to the still existing Ethnographic Museum of Kosovo. As the person responsible for the department, I had many objections to this idea. I tried hard to resist it, but there was not much that could be done. Every effort was useless, followed only by promises to re-open the department in a new dedicated space, which still does not exist to this day.

Everything was moved into the warehouses of the Museum of Kosovo, where it has remained until now in very bad condition, since there was no adequate storage space. It was not possible to access the materials or specimens, and many of them suffered water damage due to frequent leaks in the warehouses. I made many requests to unlock the door, to no avail. One group of specimens was transported from one corridor to another, without my knowledge or permission.

Now, following the interest and insistence of Petrit Halilaj, these specimens have been pulled out of the warehouses and brought into the Museum of Kosovo in order to examine their condition. We invited some students from the University of Pristina to help with this process, and they have been working with great commitment. We found that a large number of specimens have been damaged or destroyed.

The collection of the Museum of Kosovo, which includes this sector, represents incredibly valuable material. It documents the diversity of botanical and zoological forms of life in the ethnology and biogeography of our region. The collection of winged animals consists of almost 600 specimens, and is a very valuable source of material that has yet to be seen in its entirety. Some of these birds are classified as very rare, not only in the Balkan region, but also at a European level, including: Grus-Grus, Plegadis falcinellus, Otis tarda, Platalea leucorodia, Gyps fulvus, and so on. It is the same for our mammals, a large portion of which are very rare specimens within Europe, such as our beautiful Lynx lynx.

The Natural Sector is an important facility for the public. Through its displays, people have a direct link to nature in this country. Its role and importance lies in the development of consciousness, as well as in the sphere of environmental conservation. Through exhibitions (whether permanent or temporary) and guided tours, visitors can access in-depth details of the now depleted flora and fauna of Kosovo, of its endemic diversity, the danger of its disappearance, and the strategies needed to protect these species.

Dr. sc. Safet Nishefci