Natural History Museum at Tring

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Natural History Museum at Tring
Rothschild Museum Tring.jpg
View of the oldest part of the museum; there are extensive buildings to the rear and left.
Established1889 (1889)
LocationTring, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Coordinates51°47′27″N 0°39′41″W / 51.790833°N 0.661368°W / 51.790833; -0.661368Coordinates: 51°47′27″N 0°39′41″W / 51.790833°N 0.661368°W / 51.790833; -0.661368
TypeMounted zoological specimens
Collection sizeAt least 4000 objects
Visitors150,580 (2018)[1]
DirectorMichael Dixon

The Natural History Museum at Tring was the private museum of Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild; today it is under the control of the Natural History Museum, London. It houses one of the finest collections of stuffed mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in the United Kingdom. It was first known as the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum; however, in April 2007 the NHM changed its name.[2] The museum is located on Akeman Street, in Tring, Hertfordshire.


Walter Rothschild and zebra-drawn carriage

The Natural History Museum at Tring was once the private museum of Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, and is located in the grounds of the former Rothschild family home of Tring Park. The building was constructed in 1889 to house his collection of mounted specimens and first opened to the public in 1892. The Rothschild family gave the Museum and its contents to the nation in 1937.[2] Lionel Walter bred hybrids between zebras and horses (zebroids) and a hybrid foal is on display. He was frequently seen riding a zebra-drawn carriage. The museum's Zebra Cafe alludes to Lord Rothschild's love of zebras and has photographs of his trained zebras harnessed to open carriages.[3]


The extensive collection, housed in several rooms, includes extinct animals and birds such as the quagga, thylacine, great auk and reconstructions of the moa and dodo. Oddities include hybrids and examples of abnormal coloration. The dogs display was relocated to the Rothschild Zoological Museum from the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London after World War II. This shows how domestic dogs have changed shape due to selective breeding and includes the tiny Russian and Mexican lapdogs as well as famous racing greyhounds. The Museum has six galleries, each one of which houses a different set of animals. The first gallery contains birds, large carnivorans and primates, the second is used to show temporary exhibits, the third crocodilians, crustaceans, fishes, insects, large mammals and marine invertebrates, the fourth accommodates kangaroos and odd-toed ungulates, the fifth holds bovids, hippopotamuses, pigs and marine mammals, and finally the sixth gallery contains amphibians, bats, various British mammals, domestic dogs, ratites, lizards, snakes, turtles and small mammals. The Museum also contains a Discovery Room, designed for young children and the Rothschild Room which is a room set out to recreate the surroundings that the Rothschild family would have worked in. It became part of the Natural History Museum in 1937. In April 2007 its name was changed to the Natural History Museum at Tring.[2]

The site is also home to the ornithological research collections (Bird Group, Department of Zoology) and the ornithological library (Department of Library and Information Services) of The Natural History Museum, but these are not open to the public. There are small special themed exhibitions throughout the year showcasing specimens not normally on display, as well as activities for youngsters.[2]

Thefts from museum[edit]

Bird skins[edit]

On 24 June 2009, a theft occurred from the museum involving removal of 299 brightly coloured stuffed birds, mostly male trogons and quetzals from Central and South America, as well as birds of paradise from the island of New Guinea some of which had been collected by Alfred Russel Wallace.[4]. The police announced on 12 November 2010 that a 22-year-old US citizen, Edwin Rist, had been arrested, in the Tring area, in connection with the theft and the majority of bird skins had been recovered. Rist stole the birds for the purpose of selling the feathers in Victorian salmon flies, to raise money to buy a gold flute. The story was featured on NPR's This American Life, "The Feather Heist".[5] Edwin Rist, a student at The Royal Academy of Music, pleaded guilty to the theft on 24 November 2010.[6] In April 2011 Rist was given a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and a supervision order. The sentence was relatively low because Rist claimed he had Aspergers.[7] He was also required to repay £125,150, the estimated proceeds from selling the skins through such outlets as eBay. The police also advised that 191 intact bird skins had so far been recovered, of which only 101 had labels recording the birds' key scientific data.[8]

Rhinoceros horns[edit]

In the early hours of 27 August 2011, a thief broke in through the museum's front doors and removed the horns from two rhinoceros exhibits, one an Indian rhino and the other a white rhino, using what was believed to be a large hammer. However, in the light of recent thefts from other museums, three months before the break-in, curators had replaced the real rhino horns, valued at £240,000, with replica ones made from resin which had no commercial value.[9][10] On 17 January 2012, Darren Bennett from Leicester was charged with the theft of two replica rhinoceros horns.[11]



  • More information about the collecting of animals can be found in the book Dear Lord Rothschild: Birds, Butterflies and History ISBN 0-86689-019-X
  • More information about the Edwin Rist thefts can be found in the book The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson, and episode 654 of This American Life.[12]


External links[edit]