An assessment of zoological research collections in South Africa
Natural science collections are accepted globally as critical research assets. A total of 71 zoological collections in South Africa, consisting of over 15 million specimens housed at 22 institutions, were assessed to determine their current status and to make recommendations for their future security. The two greatest challenges to the sustainability of the collections are (1) that natural science museums report to departments with an arts and culture rather than a science mandate and (2) staffing. The total staff complement within these 22 institutions is 115, with many collections understaffed or not staffed, and the loss of a single staff member often leaves a collection neglected and unused. Consolidation of collections so that there is a critical mass of staff is essential to address understaffing and would also allow for the establishment of a more dynamic research and curation environment. Consolidation under an appropriate department would also enable concentration of resources rather than dilution across all institutions, which would improve the storage environment (currently 28% of collections have reliable temperature control and only 8% (five collections) have humidity control), and increase the efficiency of the use of available funds (the curation budget was R1.08 million in 2009/2010 for all 71 collections). Consolidation could also ensure the improvement of data storage, management and dissemination, thereby increasing accessibility to the collections and the use of the collections for research.