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Shining a light on the Unsung Heroes of SA’s natural history

Mammals

1928-1991: Saul Sithole
Sithole was obviously very talented and much in-demand in many of the sections, as he also collected and prepared mammal specimens, in addition to his work in the Plio-Pleistocene Palaeontology and Birds departments.

1956-2009: Sam Rantlhakgwa
Sam Rantlhakgwa was trained by Saul Sithole. He is remembered by all who worked with him as an expert skinner of many birds and mammals. Through his skilled preparations, he left an invaluable contribution to the record of birds, and particularly small mammals, over the many years he worked at the museum. He also used to assist with fieldwork and collected small mammals with Naas Rautenbach on many trips. This fieldwork resulted in the book titled The mammals of the Transvaal, and numerous publications on small mammals, in particular on bats of the northern Kruger National Park.
     During this latter fieldwork, Rantlhakgwa began to have back problems that eventually led to him needing to use a wheel chair. Those who worked with him admired him for his skills, his cheerful nature, and the courage he showed in adapting to his disability, which, although it curtailed his participation in fieldwork, never diminished his superb preparations.
     Besides training those who worked alongside him, he was brought back on contract after he retired to train Johanna Lebese, and the current preparators – Captain Ndhlovu and Anna Maleka.

1989-2000: Joe Mashankana
Joe Mashankana worked in what was referred to as the ‘pickle shed’, de-fleshing and de-greasing mammal skeletons.

2006-2013: Johanna Lebese
Johanna Lebese was a cleaner at the museum for many years. A job that included cleaning in the mammal section. Having seen preparation work in progress, she expressed an interest to be trained and shift posts, which she then did very successfully before she retired.

Other preparators who worked in the mammal section alongside Rantlhakgwa included Stephen Matlhasedi, Jan Sesane, and Jackson Kone.

  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators
  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators
  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators
  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators
  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators
  • DITSONG National Museum of Natural History unsung heroes curators

Specimen collection and preparation
In the past, mammals were shot, but more recently they are caught using nets and traps. The preparation techniques are similar to those used in the bird collection, which is to prepare dry specimens or specimens preserved in alcohol. The dry specimens are either a clean skeleton or a prepared skin.

See the work of the Unsung Heroes at the DITSONG: National Museum of Natural History and find out more about South Africa’s natural history at DITSONG: Museums of South Africa.

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