Red Kite

Vertebrate zoology is the study of animals which have a backbone. There are only about 50,000 different kinds of vertebrates, a pin-prick in the earth's biodiversity compared to the millions of different kinds of invertebrates - animals without backbones - and plants.

Despite this and because they tend to big, obvious, and frequently cute, vertebrates such as whales, big cats, and birds get far more public attention than all the rest.

This popularity means that vertebrates, far more than other animals or plants, become the symbols of campaigns to raise public awareness of environmental issues. It is this popularity which also makes them an important part of this museum.


The Vertebrate Collection has its origins in the Cardiff City Museum which was based in the old Central Library. We still have about 200 of these specimens, mainly mounted birds and skeletal specimens, the earliest dating back to 1882.

Over the last 80 years the Collection has been built up by the acquisition of many small collections and a large number of individual donations. It is still relatively small and holds approximately 12,000 cabinet skins, 8,000 glass negatives, 7,500 clutches of bird eggs, 4,000 skeletal preparations and 1,800 mounted specimens.

Of particular note are 10 complete specimens of extinct animals; Great Auk alca impennis (and egg), Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratoria (2, a mount and a skeleton), Dodo Raphus cucculatus (skeleton), Huia Heteralocha acutirostris (2 mounts, 2 skins), Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (mount) and a semi-fossilised egg of an Elephant Bird Aepyornis maximus. And although incomplete we have the leg bone from an unidentified species of Moa.

There are about 90 figured or cited specimens in the collection, these are mainly species of bird and fish which are rarely found in the British Isles and any occurrence of which is reported in a variety of journals. We also have several specimens that received widespread coverage in local papers such as; the skeleton of 'Billy' the seal, Red Deer antlers and several albino or leucistic birds.

There are two searchable databases available on-line, one details the bird skin collection and the other the museum's collection of mounted animals.