The Research On The Danube Delta In The Program Of The Grigore Antipa National Museum Of Natural History In Bucharest

The National Museum of Natural History has its origins in the National Museum of Natural History and Antiquities, founded through Act no. 143/3rd of November 1834, signed by Alexandru Dimitrie Ghica – the first ruler of Muntenia after the modernizing Organic Regulations, made famous by his enthusiastic promotion of the national spirit. The core of the museum were the collections of his brother Mihail D. Ghica, "great home justice of peace" (1834-1842) and president of the princely council. The fact that the original National Museum housed collections of natural history is proved by the reports of the School Ephors in which rare collections of rocks, minerals, shells and snails, birds and mammals are mentioned. In 1893 Dr. Grigore Antipa returned to the country, after he had graduated from the University of Jena, where he had studied under the great morphologist, evolutionist, and father of ecology, Ernst Haeckel. Appointed director of the zoological collections by the Ministry of Culture and Public Instruction, Antipa moved the patrimony, which had been partially destroyed in the fire of 24th March 1884, to no. 19 on Polona St., where the collections were mainly organized on the basis of materials sent from the Indonesian Archipelago by Dr. Hilarie Mitrea from Rasinarii Sibiului. The Czech doctor Emil Holub donated several vertebrates brought from South Africa. Theodor Adensamer from Vienna sent three trunks with samples of most of the classes of animals collected in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, from the Maluku Archipelago and Japan. On 6th September 1895, the naturalist Albert Bielz from Sibiu donated a collection of almost 115,000 snails and shells. On 14th October 1896, the Romanian explorers Dimitrie and his son Nicolae Ghika-Comanesti donated to the same museum ten hunting trophies from Somalia, beautifully preserved at Rowland Ward's in London. In 1897, Haeckel himself sent to his ex-student a number of 114 radiolarian items, collected during the expedition of the English ship "Challenger". Housing the above mentioned acquisitions, the location in Polona St. became soon too small. Consequently, in 1903 Grigore Antipa presented to King Carol I and to the prime minister Dimitrie Sturdza a document in which he demonstrated the need to commission a building especially meant to become the Zoological Museum, "worthy of the capital of the country". During the same year, the Council of Ministers approved the solicited fund and attributed a field of 45,000 m2 on Kiseleff Avenue. In the building finished in 1906, Antipa prepared an exhibition in sixteen display halls and the first seven dioramas, which he presented to the monarch, to the prime-minister Dimitrie Sturdza and to Spiru Haret, the minister of education. Prince Ferdinand and his wife Maria, the ministers Ion Bratianu and Dimitrie Carp, the engineer Anghel Saligny, president of the Romanian Academy, Ermil Pangratti, dean of the Faculty of Science and others were also present at the opening. Another eleven halls were inaugurated on 18th June 1914, when the number of dioramas reached fifteen. This time it was called the National Museum of National History, and on 23rd May 1933, King Carol II named the museum after the name of the organizer – Grigore Antipa. Antipa (1934) considered the museum to be "the central institute for research on the nature of the country". He himself conducted there the first Romanian research on the national fauna, studied the hydro-biological environment of the Danube Delta, of the waters of the river, with its flooded parts, of the lagoons, marine lakes and the Black Sea. Bacescu (1967) says: "In the museum laboratories, he undertook fundamental research on the Danube and its Delta, on fish, reptiles, mammals, the marine fauna and zoological folklore." In 1957 the first issue of the magazine "Travaux du Museum National d'Histoire naturelle Grigore Antipa" appeared; fifty volumes have been published since that year. The magazine contains the results of specialists within and without the museum (collaborators and donors), people who do research in the Romanian and worldwide fauna and biodiversity. In this enlarged context of the current topics of scientific research and in the spirit of Grigore Antipa's vision, since 1970 the specialists of the Museum have been involved in programmes of extensive study of the fauna of the Saraturile sandbanks (grinduri), then Letea and Caraorman – the latter having a richer fauna, as they are forested. All in all, sixty-two species of Hymenoptera (Symphita, Vespoidea, Pompiloidea, Apoidea and Sphecoidea), twelve species of Trichoptera, seven species of Lepidoptera, three hundred and twelve species of Diptera (Stratiomyidae, Tabanidae, Asilidae, Therevidae and Sciomyzidae), as well as thirty-nine mining insect species, which attack both spontaneous and culture plants. Out of four hundred and seventy one identified species, four of the Hymenoptera were signaled for the first time in the Romanian fauna, to which five new species of Diptera and one of Lepidoptera were added. Similar results were found for other classes of invertebrates as well as for the representatives of classes of vertebrates: fish, amphibians, reptile, birds and mammals. The specialists of the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History have come to the conclusion that, although Letea and Caraorman are separated from the Sulina arm, they are similar because they have been formed similarly, that is they are made of layers of silt brought by the Danube. The large quantity of sandy silt increased the height of these sandbanks, also under the influence of marine currents from North to South. Another common feature of the two sandbanks is the fact that they are covered in the same types of forests, with an almost identical specific grass vegetation. At the same time, the sand dunes of Caraorman are more spectacular, even more mobile, as the area is more populated and with a more significant anthropogenic impact, a part of which consists in uncontrolled deforestation. Some of these dunes are more than four meters high and their crescent shape is perpendicular on the wind direction. Lower places are frequently flooded by the Danube waters flowing in the Litcov channel, especially in spring. After the waters withdraw, the respective places are invaded by a luxurious vegetation – a good nutritional basis for the wild fauna, the object of study of the specialists of the Museum of Natural History. Both sandbanks (Letea and Caraorman) have Mediterranean floral elements in their forests, e.g. liana (Periploca graeca), wild vine (Vitis sylvestris), elms, oaks, ash, white poplars, time trees and acacias. These sandbanks are a sort of an entrance gate for many species, which did not spread outside the Danube Delta: Monochroa palustrella, Acleris hastiana, Euchromius bleszynskiellus are only some of the species of butterflies inhabiting this area, which is extremely important from a zoo-geographic point of view. In 1914, in his work "Les problèmes scientifiques et économiques de Delta du Danube", Grigore Antipa drew up the programmes and the necessary estimates for technical aspects (ex. blueprints of channels for the refreshing of waters in the Delta) and scientific research of the flora and fauna of the thirty different ecosystems. Romanians can be proud of being the first in the world to make a diorama presentation, in Bucharest. As early as 1934, Antipa said: "The way in which the museum is organized and the way in which exhibits are displayed made this museum famous abroad, so many foreign scholars who visited it describe it as one of the best museums in the world. Many great museums, for example the Museum of Natural History and the Oceanographic Museum in Berlin, made use of our experience to imitate our model of display in biological dioramas. In the galleries of the great museums of natural history in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Jena etc. are displayed Romanian animal collections donated by the museum of Bucharest." The museum specialists completed the diorama presentations of the Danube Delta with the information gathered on the field, the diorama being realized by the founder himself in 1907. In this diorama, besides the floral elements, the group of birds is predominant: pelicans – the emblem of the delta, small and big egrets, spoonbills, yellow, red and grey aigrettes, cormorants, swans, eastern flossy ibises, black-wing stilts, coots, while near the nest hung to the willow twigs one can notice the crest (Regulus Regulus). There is a similar presentation for the floodable waterside of the Danube – a diorama that was dismantled and then recreated again (precisely due to its historical importance), after the works of building consolidation (1996-2006). However, the most important document on the Danube Delta left from Antipa is the map which was the starting point of the establishment of borders on the occasion of the Delta being given status of Biosphere Reserve starting with 1990, a fact confirmed by the Romanian Parliament in Law 82/1993.

by Dumitru Murariu