Rhino among animals excavated at Lubbock Lake Landmark for preservation within Texas Tech Museum

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 9:49 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Natural Science Research Laboratory (NSRL) has eagerly awaited the day it could unearth the skeletal remains of its rhinoceros, buried several years ago. In several trenches on the grounds of the Texas Tech Museum’s Lubbock Lake Landmark are the remains of other animals to go into the collections of both entities.

“Our rhino was a zoo animal donated to us by the Fort Worth Zoo,” Dr. Robert Bradley, Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the NSRL, said. “Normally, we have a set of bugs that eat the flesh off of skeletons, clean them up so that we can put them in the museum. Obviously, a rhino and some of these other things are too large so we bury them and leave them buried for two or three years.”

With the help of a donated backhoe from Warren Cat, students of Museum Science uncovered the rhino bone-by-bone as well as the smaller animals like raccoons, coyotes and birds buried on behalf of the Landmark.

“We use the animals for our comparative collection,” Director of the Landmark Dr. Eileen Johnson said. “The Lubbock Lake Landmark’s record is thousands and thousands of years old and one of the important aspects is the animal record that we have. In order to illuminate that record, we have to be able to identify the bones that we recover. Our comparative collection is very, very important.”

The NSRL will also use its rhino remains and others to compare during research.

“The material that [students are] responsible for will be put into their collections as a comparative material so that when they dig up a Pleistocene-age horse that they have a modern horse to compare it to and say, ‘nope, that’s not a modern horse, it’s a fossil, etc.’ Rhino skeletons are exceptionally rare, as you probably would guess. Most of them are threatened and or endangered. Anytime you get a chance to get a zoo animal that’s deceased, it’s important to get them into collections so students and other researchers have access to that material.”

Dr. Johnson said the research made possible by comparative material has resulted in an animal record at the Landmark that is known around the world.

“We are known internationally for the extensive animal record that we have of the past and how that has illuminated climate change through time, and how the grasslands have changed through time and how the water regime has changed,” Dr. Johnson said. “Our comparative collection is very, very important to that aspect.”

Dr. Johnson encourages the public to visit the Landmark, which is open six days a week, to learn more about its work and to benefit from the educational programming, which is back to being hands-on.

The Museum of Texas Tech University also has plenty of exhibits for the public to visit. Dr. Bradley recommends the Biodiversity of the Llano Estacado.

“It’s examples of primarily mammals and birds that you would see in the Lubbock and surrounding areas and the exhibit contains all the different habitat types that are in the area, everything from canyons to short grass prairie, to agriculture and urban habitats,” Dr. Bradley said. “We select the species that occur in those those different habitats. It’s a chance for adults and especially for kids. That’s kind of the target of a lot of this is to get the kids interested in the wildlife that they might see in their backyard or on a farm or just driving down the highway.”

Click here to learn more about the Museum of Texas Tech University.

Click here for the Lubbock Lake Landmark.

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