National Museum of Natural History (NMNHS-BAS) has a dual function: on the one hand, it is a scientific institution which employs leading specialists in the field of classical natural science and an expert center in the field of environmental protection, on the other – it is a cultural and educational center of national importance presenting to society the knowledge of nature. It is the oldest museum in Bulgaria and the richest natural history museum in the Balkans.
NMNHS is the only national institution directly involved in the preservation of scientific collections of living and non-living nature from Bulgaria and the world.
Research and applied activity
Major research goals are the study of nature, the evolution of organisms and the conservation of natural biodiversity. It is no accident that the priority directions for NMNHS are fundamental studies in the field of classical natural sciences and nature conservation studies. That is why the developed scientific directions in the museum are:
- Taxonomy, faunistics, zoogeography and animal ecology;
- Evolution of fossil mammals and birds;
NMNHS is a national center for biospeleology and research and conservation of bat-fauna as well as a main research unit in the field of entomology, archaeozoology and palaeontology of vertebrates. At NMNHS, students and PhD students in all the mentioned fields are being taught.
Today NMNHS is the only or major research center in Bulgaria in the field of bio-speleology and study and conservation of the bat fauna, entomology, palaeontology of vertebrates and archaezoology. In the museum as a research center, new research areas for Bulgaria such as palaeoornitology and bone morphology of birds are being developed with the creation of the first ornitho-osteological collection in Bulgaria (one of the most important in Europe) and research of the evolution of the mammal megafauna, the hominids and their palaeohabitat.
Along with the scientific and expert activities, the Museum is also involved in the maintenance of the exposition and the enrichment and processing of scientific collections amounting to almost 1.5 million units. With that, NMNHS implements its educational and promotional mission. Each year, the museum is visited by about 50000 (in some years up to 115 000) people. Its halls serve for practical classes of students, pupils and children. Along with the scientific, also active museum work is done on the maintenance and development of the exposition and the enrichment of the scientific collections that are representative for the country. Temporary themed exhibitions are organized on various occasions.
Scientists at NMNHS have discovered and described over 340 new – for the world – species and families of contemporary and fossil invertebrate and vertebrate animals as well as plants from all over the world. Among them are the only fossil rhinoceros bird from Europe – a new family for the fossil fauna of the continent, the world’s oldest Griffon Vultures, new fossil predators and giant odd-toed ungulates from the Balkans and Central Asia, the supragenual group of subterranean beetles Lovriciina and many more.
The first international palaeontological expedition in Bulgaria 1985-1987, Bulgarian-French excavations of the Pliocene site near the village of Dorkovo, Western Rhodopes, was also organized and conducted by NMNHS. Today, the locality is considered to be a reference for the beginning of the Pliocene and the continental fauna and nature of that time in Eastern Europe. Dorkovo is also the richest trove of Anancus arvernensis in the world. In 2013, the exposition of a palaeontological museum near Dorkovo was completed, which presented the natural environment 5 million years ago in the Balkans through dioramas, sculpture reconstructions of ancient animals, imitation of excavations, exposed fossils and visual materials. The concept of the exposition was created by scientists at NMNHS. The museum was officially opened by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria in September 2013.
Scientists from NMNHS are constantly sought as experts, at national level, in the field of nature conservation. They participate in national projects and committees; provide their qualifications and knowledge to help state authorities, related scientific institutions in Bulgaria and abroad.
NMNHS is the National Center for the Implementation of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The museum is one of the two scientific institutions that developed the latest edition of the Red Book of Bulgaria. Museum scientists are involved in all stages of the construction of the European Natura 2000 European Nature Conservation Network in Bulgaria. It is among the leading national institutions for monitoring biodiversity.
The scientific expeditions of the museum specialists are a characteristic activity which has a great scientific contribution and a public response. Zoological studies have been carried out in almost all continents and in many regions of the world: the Himalayas, Cuba, Mexico, China, Mongolia, Turkey, Indonesia, a number of African countries, Korea, South America, New Guinea, Europe and others. The collected materials are part of the museum’s funds and have made a significant contribution to studying the fauna of dozens of countries around the world. In 1983, the largest expedition of NMNHS was conducted: the complex zoological expedition in Mozambique. It was entirely organized by the museum and was held by a decision of the Presidium of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It brought half a ton of scientific collections of corals, skins and skeletons of large mammals, amphibians and reptiles, preserved in alcohol, and invertebrate fauna. Based on these collections, a new genus and species of semi-coleoptera insect and two new species of large mammals that were new for Mozambique were described. Several expeditions conducted in Asia in 1984-1995 were organized and led by museum collaborators.
NMNHS also operates:
Bat Research and Conservation Center (BRCC) – deals with the study of the dissemination and biology of all species of bats in Bulgaria, the promotion of their importance, the development of plans and strategies for their protection and management of the significant habitats. At the initiative of scientists from the Bat Research and Conservation Center at the Museum, since 1997, the International Bat Night is celebrated annually. Head: Boyan Petrov.
Biospeleology Research Center which investigates the subterranean fauna, records of the new species and catalogues the cave-dwelling animals from their capture, transportation to the laboratories and study until the publication of the results. Head: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Petar Beron.
There are two PhD programs in the museum (the last accreditation for both programs has maximal grades for the period from 16.11.2015 to 16.11.2021)
1. Doctoral program in scientific specialty “Zoology” (10602)
2. Doctoral program in scientific specialty “Entomology” (10614)
Other educational initiatives
Since 2012, NMNHS actively conducts educational and promotional activities. Through public-private partnerships, educational programs for children are held throughout the year. Museum scientists run biology internship programs to enable students in biology and environmental conservation to acquire professional field work experience, experience with science collections or in the exposition halls.