Darwin exhibition marred by use of live animals at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Darwin 1809 – 2009
In line with major museums all over the world the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome is celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of English naturalist Charles Darwin with a fascinating exhibition Darwin 1809 – 2009, curated by Niles Eldredge, Ian Tattersall and Telmo Pievani. Occupying the entire upper floor of the museum this is an exhaustive show looking at Darwin's entire life: the young collector of beetles; his life-changing five year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle during which he collected numerous specimens and filled notebooks with his observations which would later form the very beginnings of his theory of evolution by natural selection; his marriage and London years; his domestic life and decades of study at Down House in the English countryside through to the eventual publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and The Descent of Man. There are also rooms dedicated to human evolution and evolution today which uses new tools and technologies, such as DNA analyses, to support Darwin's theories.

There's lots to read in this exhibition (you'll need several hours to do the show proper justice) but the bite size nuggets of information accompanying each exhibit – letters, notebooks, fossils, skeletons and mounted animal specimens - are concise and clearly written leaving the visitor with a satisfyingly thorough overview of Darwin's life and achievements.

However, as the Palazzo delle Esposizioni website and leaflets proudly proclaim
Live animals play a starring role here: green iguanas, armadillo and turtles.
It's a well documented fact that Darwin abhorred animal cruelty and certainly, the use of live exhibits in this show – all on loan from the Bioparco di Roma - seems grossly unnecessary. When I visited the show on Saturday 14th February the galleries were packed with families and student groups but the sight of the armadillo in a glass enclosure in the middle of an art gallery seemed, if anything, to perplex and concern visitors. In fact, the Italian Anti-Vivisection League (LAV) had made moves to block these exhibits prior to the opening and issued a legal warning against the mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno amongst others, expressing concern at the potential stress that they will likely endure in the unusual settings of the Palazzo.

Here's hoping that this excellent exhibition centre takes heed and removes the live animals from what is otherwise a fascinating tribute to an extraordinary mind.

Join the Facebook pressure group - Togli gli animali vivi dalla mostra Darwin a Roma - urging the museum to remove the live animals.