The exhibit is currently touring large zoological gardens, museums of natural history, and popular science centers around the world.
Naked animals may not cause even a blush, but a look under the covers of our four-legged friends (and finned ones) is a revelation. London's Natural History Museum presents a new exhibition of preserved animals from the team behind the plastinated Body Worlds shows. With more than 100 exhibits – including a giant 56-year-old elephant, a giraffe balanced on one hoof, a blood-red shark and a hairless gorilla – it is the most recent creation of the 21st-century Frankenstein, Gunther von Hagens.
While zoos present animals in environments that resemble their natural habitat, Animals Inside Out give onlookers a peek inside, "into a 3rd dimension of experience."
He treats the animals with a process called plastination which removes all the blood from the muscles, veins and arteries and replaces them with a latex material. He suffered through a lot of controversy in the past when some people had suggested that Chinese prison inmates had been the source of his bodies.
With a body so heavy that it would collapse under its own weight, Von Hagens came up with the idea of creating an internal scaffolding for the creature – a series of blood red steel pipes designed to precisely represent its vascular system. This is a new method that preserves only the blood vessels, while removing all other tissue. You’ll be startled at the number and density of blood vessels in an ostrich or a shark.
After embalming stops the bodies' decay, body tissues that won't be on display are removed, and the specimen is placed in an acetone bath to remove water and fat. Then, the animal is immersed in a liquid plastic and placed in a vacuum chamber, which forces out the acetone and causes the plastic to replace it. The specimen is then put into position and then hardened with gas, heat or light.
The lack of human specimens does make it feel slightly less macabre than previous von Hagens shows, but we still wouldn’t recommend this display to the squeamish. It’s unsettling to see, under their skins, that these animals are remarkably similar to us, with the same organs and muscle groups in slightly different arrangements.
"We really want visitors to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of the animals that are on display. It's a really unique chance for visitors to sort of see under the skin of animals and see them in a way that they've never seen them before," said Georgina Bishop, curator at the Natural History Museum.