The National Museum of Natural History invites you to discover the biodiversity of tropical rainforests. Spread across four continents – Asia, Oceania, South America, Africa – they are home to more than half of the animal and plant species known in the world. Jungle in the process of enlightenment gives an overview of this richness through a journey featuring characteristic, spectacular or unusual species – fearsome felines, astonishing frogs, giant flowers – in the form of luminous lanterns.
A nighttime stroll, for young and old, full of beautiful and unusual surprises. Cyril Roguet, director of the Jardin des Plantes and project manager of the exhibition, and Géraldine Véron, scientific curator of the exhibition specializing in wildlife and felines in particular, were our fascinating guides.
Culture Franceinfo: after highlighting endangered species (2018), the oceans (2019), the evolution of life (2021) and small wildlife (2022), you offer a walk in the tropical rainforests.
Cyril Roguet: For the fifth edition, we chose a theme that resonates with the exhibition Felines (until January 7, 2024 at the Museum) and the Predator season at the Paris Zoological Park. Jungle in the process of enlightenment East againstdesigned as a traditional exhibition for which scientists have selected the species to be retained and written the labels that accompany them to challenge the visitor about the specificity of biodiversity. We compiled photographic and documentary data on each of the species, which were transmitted to the Chinese designers of the China Light Festival. A game of ping-pong follows between our partner and the scientists to validate each of the elements before launching the creation of the light lanterns. These are unique creations, almost haute couture, designed especially for us, in Sichuan, by these local artisans for whom this is their core business. They use the know-how of traditional lanterns to design light trails. Then everything is transported to Paris to be assembled here at the Jardin des Plantes.
Why focus on the biodiversity of these forests?
Géraldine Véron: BecauseThese are the natural environments which present the highest rate of plant and animal biodiversity and sometimes also endemism in certain areas.
Which forests do we cross during this night walk?
Géraldine Véron: The journey begins in India, whose jungle was made famous by Rudyard Kipling in 1894 with the The jungle Book. Subsequently, we unfolded the route by geographical region to show the large groups of tropical forests which exist on several continents: after India, we continue in South-East Asia, in particular in Borneo which we illustrate with its mangroves. We then cross New Guinea, this island with very strong endemism and great diversity, then towards the Amazon with the forest, a fairly characteristic gallery of humid and dense tropical forests. Let’s then move on to the African continent with Madagascar and tropical Africa. Throughout this nocturnal journey, we find different atmospheres and above all this impression of walking in the jungle with sound parts and projections to better visualize.
Which forest do you like the most?
Géraldine Véron: I have an affection for South-East Asia where the proboscis monkey lives, for example, an animal that I particularly like. It’s a pretty strange primate, endemic, very strange, with this big nose. It is thought that the latter plays a role in the cry of the males which it amplifies by giving them a certain resonance so that they are more sonorous in order to attract females. The proboscis monkey is quite large, rather placid and lives in groups.
What are the other unusual encounters with animals along the route?
Géraldine Véron: For example, we represented a slightly lesser-known feline: the fishing cat. This is quite incredible because it is believed that cats do not like water when in reality they are capable of diving to capture their prey, often fish but also small aquatic animals as well as terrestrial prey. This cat has the somewhat typical characteristics of aquatic animals with a slightly more elongated head, slightly webbed feet, good claws and sharp, pointed teeth useful for eating fish. It does not have a very long tail since in marshy and aquatic environments it is not necessarily the best. It is not a very large feline, it measures 60 to 80 centimeters without the tail and lives in Southeast Asia.
In the Amazon there is also a very curious species, a practically transparent glass frog. Through the animal, we can see its organs: this allows it to be very discreet in the face of predators and to be even more transparent, its red blood cells return to its liver so as not to be visible in the vegetation.
The route also ends with a symbol of endangered species. These tropical forests, despite their diversity and their important role as the lungs of the planet, are also very fragile. Plants and animals are threatened, like this family of western lowland gorillas. It is a critically endangered species, it is a strong symbol of this fragility and an important message to end this journey in the tropical forests.
Which plant species should not be missed?
Geraldine Véron : In the shows, there is the titan Arum. A gigantic, absolutely incredible plant that flowers every ten years. This year, in the greenhouse (of the Jardin des Plantes) we were lucky enough to have a flowering. The latter, very short and very rare, lasts 72 hours. During the course, the Arum is represented at different stages of its development. It measures 3.5 meters.
Here, we also find plants that are less spectacular but which are truly part of the decor of these tropical forests. Mangroves are therefore incredible trees with giant roots that come out of the water: they live in the earth, in the air and in the water. These trees are characteristic of the mangrove. They are very important in its tropical forests and in its brackish waterfront because they play a buffer role between the land environment and the sea. This is a crucial role in these climatic times of rising water levels because they will limit erosion and the risks of degradation of more interior environments during tsunamis, for example. Everyone plays their role in their forest.
We also see spectacular flowers like this orchid with the strange shape of a butterfly on which is placed a mantis, an insect which also has the shape of a flower. These are magnificent things, very spectacular and enriching at the same time!
How was the choice of fauna and flora represented here made?
Géraldine Véron: We proceeded in stages. Firstly, with the scientific teams we thought about the theme. We have limited ourselves to a large part of mammals and vertebrates. We wanted to focus on a certain number of interactions between animal and plant species to show how these very rich ecosystems work. We wanted to show that this is an environment that is not as uniform as it seems – a very green space with big trees and lots of species – because there are things and diversity that are very different within these environments.
We show emblematics that we could not escape and others that we wanted to highlight because they are less known and interesting, such as the fishing cat, the armadillo and the okapi.
How did the scientists work with the China Light Festival company?
Géraldine Véron: Once the species are selected, you need to find images that match them to send to the China Light Festival. These artisans create each scene but make an artistic choice in the species we offer. For these stagings, we discuss with them to see the relevance: we scientifically check whether the positioning, shape, colors, interactions, geographical area correspond well. Once we all agree, they create. The lanterns arrive as a kit and are assembled here.
How many lanterns are installed? Are any of them animated?
Cyril Roguet: There are more than a hundred structures, it’s enormous, including around twenty animated ones. We added sound devices – reproduction of the sounds of tropical forests – as well as projections on the ground and a little surprise on the greenhouse side!
Geraldine Véron : The pea___ is spectacular with its animated, color-changing tail, just like the color-changing chameleon. This animal has the particularity of capturing its prey by deploying its tongue, throwing it at its prey, there is this animation which shows its predation action.
When did this project start?
Cyril Roguet: The project began in February 2023. Until June, there was a period of design of the museum route then the Chinese company launched manufacturing from mid-July until September. The structures were delivered from mid-October and it took four weeks to assemble everything. During the eight weeks of presentation of the exhibition, part of the China Light Festival team is on site to carry out paint touch-ups and small repairs. It’s normal, we’re outside.
What will become of these structures?
Cyril Roguet: Our approach is eco-responsible since the metal structures are recovered by our Chinese partner and will be used to build other structures! The entire electrical network of these creations is lit with low-consumption LED bulbs. Additionally, we have restricted the days of operation, this year there are only 48 days in a shorter 4 hour period.
“Jungle in the process of illumination” at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris from November 22 to January 21, 2024. Place Valhubert. 75005 Paris. Wednesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. During school holidays, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (including December 25 and 31 and January 1). Closing on December 24. Price: 15 to 18 euros.