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"Frutti di Mare": Zoological findings of the Missionary Benedictines at the Indian Ocean

The first St. Ottilien missionaries who were sent out to East Africa in 1887 had a mandate from the head of the community to send back to St. Ottilien as much illustrative material as possible. This was to give the home-based community members an idea of the local circumstances abroad and to prepare young confreres for their future mission work.

The missionary collection created by these efforts opened to the public around the turn of the 20th century; it is basis for the present-day Missionsmuseum. Due to frequent changes of location in the mission country, brisk construction activity resulting from high demand for space and shortage of personnel, it is unlikely the collecting activities started before 1894.

Attention focused on cultural and natural history objects of all kinds.

The latter included zoologica collected on shore. Starting from the end of 1889, the Missionary Benedictines operated a house in Dar es Salaam, and from 1901 another house in Lindi, in the southeast of the country. From these two seaside towns most zoological objects from the sea are likely to have come to St. Ottilien.

The exact provenance of the objects from the museum's natural history collection of is documented only for a small part of the objects; records about the origin of the objects were not a primary focus of the St. Ottilien missionaries.

Today, most of the animals in the collection as well as in the depository of the Missionsmuseum come under the regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna issued in 1976. However, we know for sure that our zoological collection originates from decades earlier.

The current special exhibition shows a whale vertebra and a few larger objects as a sea turtle, skull and jawbone of a manatee, a special dolphin species and a shark species.

Preserved animals as a sea snake, a porcupinefish, a ray, a spider crab and a horseshoe crab are on display. Dried starfish and shells of urchins, sea snails and a nautilus can be admired in the showcases.