Museum of Natural History of La Rochelle, La Rochelle, Poitou-Charentes, France

The Natural History Museum in La Rochelle largely presents the colections of the great French explorers of the early 19th century, as they set out to discover the unexplored regions of the world, and is very effective at making you realise how extraordinary the world must have seemed to people at that time.

The tour of the museum starts with exhibits of the flora and fauna native to the Poitou-Charentes region – lizards, fish, insects, small mammals etc – presented in numerous glass cases. It also has an educational purpose, explaining the problems of some of the invasive species such as the ragondin and the muskrat.

The real adventure starts as you go to the first floor, passing a giraffe that was presented to Charles X in 1826, and was the first giraffe to be seen in France. A present from Egypt, the giraffe walked the 800 kilometres from Marseille to Paris to be presented to the King, attracting a great deal of attention on the way. It spent many years living in France and being admired, and was carefully preserved after its death.

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