The Timbavati Museum, A Source of Wonder For Nearly 40,000 Underprivileged Kids

This entry in the visitors book, from a child visiting the museum, attests to the awe and wonder of the museum.

One of the best kept secrets in the Lowveld is the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve’s museum aptly called the Graeme Naylor museum - after the man who has almost singlehandedly populated the displays in this amazing facility.

A view of the museum.

Located at the reserve’s headquarters, Chi Mani Mani, it’s packed with so many interesting things to see. There’s a stunning display of all the freshwater fish found in the reserve. A brilliant photographic poster shows all the frogs you’ll encounter. Stand next to a jaw dropping display of the fabled white lions of the Timbavati and you’ll get an idea how huge these animals are.

Standing next to an adult white lion evokes yelps of delight from the children.

There’s a blood chilling exhibit with skulls and pictures that shows how brutal rhino poaching is. A fascinating item with a set of elephant skulls to match shows how the molars - 6 sets in a lifetime - constantly move into place on the elephant’s jawbone, until after many years the last set is left and these eventually become pitiful stubs and the poor creature literally starves to death.

Cabinets filled with the most beautiful butterflies and moths, all found in the reserve, serve as a reminder of the incredible diversity of nature. A huge collection of birds’ eggs covering virtually every species found in South Africa is awesome. Although the museum focuses mainly on the natural history of the Timbavati, many displays cover the whole country.

We were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the museum by the man who has been its driving force since 2009, Dr Graeme Naylor. As Graeme spoke, we could feel his excitement and enthusiasm for the place. Interesting facts and experiences kept coming up. We stopped at a display of the scorpions of the reserve, each one found and collected by Graeme. All the frogs shown in a huge, colourful poster were photographed by him.

We noticed in the visitors book a lovely, humorous foreword by Graeme’s wife Marilyn, “...I have had in my freezer, baby lion cubs, a pangolin, various birds and a whole baboon.” Such is the passion of the man, that he collects the animals for the museum before handing them over to the taxidermist. All of the creatures on display died of natural causes - the white lion cubs were killed by marauding male lions, the baboon a roadkill...

An interesting display showing all 6 stages of an elephant’s molars throughout its life cycle.

But it’s when kids from the neighbouring underprivileged communities pour in for a visit that one truly understands the real value of the museum. Amazed, they run from one exhibit to the next, their excited chattering and whoops of joy and wonder sounding like a flock of joyous little birds.

Since the early 2000s nearly 40000 school kids have visited the museum as part of the Timbavati Foundation’s outreach programme which is mainly funded by the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

Here they come face to face with a side of nature that they seldom, if ever, experience. Being able to stand next to a massive adult lion, see hundreds of jewel-like moths and butterflies, or feel the size and weight of a lion skull, see how huge an elephant skull is, how big a python can grow...

Here the seeds of the importance and value of conservation and nature are planted. And it’s not only kids who come under the spell of what the museum offers. Guests from luxury lodges in the reserve also visit, and as one of them so aptly put it,

”I felt a sense of awe and wonder with the place and learnt so much.”

A group of local school children exploring and experiencing the magic of the museum firsthand.

Please note that visits to the Graeme Naylor Museum are by appointment only. Please contact Promise at the TPNR Reception to avoid disappointment. - +27 (0)15 793 2394

*Adults R50.00 per person, Children under 12 are free. School groups and/or Non-profit organisations within the Hoedspruit surrounds are also free of charge.