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<p>PHOTOS BY LAUNCE RAKE</p><p>Christmas and other December celebrations will be featured this month at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum</p>


Christmas and other December celebrations will be featured this month at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum

<p>Just another rush-hour Friday at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum</p>

Just another rush-hour Friday at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum

<p>Here, kitty kitty! Looking at some of Nevada&amp;#8217;s former residents.</p>

Here, kitty kitty! Looking at some of Nevada&#8217;s former residents.

<p>One of the Natural History Museum&amp;#8217;s many volunteer greeters</p>

One of the Natural History Museum&#8217;s many volunteer greeters

The Las Vegas Natural History Museum is one of the city’s oldest operating museums. Marilyn Gillespie has been with the museum since it opened in 1991. Last week, Gillespie invited CityLife to see the initial exhibits of what will be a multi-cultural presentation of various celebrations from various religious traditions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist) and parts of the world (Thailand, Hungary, the Philippines and others) in a month-long “December to Remember.”

What is the museum known for?

The goal of the museum is to foster an understanding of science and our environment, and ultimately ourselves. We have exhibits that help us understand Nevada’s past and present. But we also take a global approach, as you can see from our Treasures of Egypt and Out of Africa exhibits. And of course we’re known for educational programs that we have for young people.

Why does the museum highlight December celebrations from around the world?

The more we understand our neighbors, the more we see similarities in ourselves. By understanding other people’s traditions, we’re finding our shared values and encouraging tolerance.

Looking out past December, what does the Natural History Museum have planned for Las Vegas?

We are developing an interactive exhibit, the Young Scientist Center. The center will help young people learn about the natural sciences, the environment and adaption.

So this week, we’re seeing the installation of December-themed exhibits and an entire program for young people to do hands-on science. Is change one of the constants at the museum?

We continue to make improvements, bring in new ideas and exhibits.

How big is the museum?

It’s 40,000 square feet. People don’t realize how far the museum goes back, and that we have a whole second floor.

What else surprises people about the museum?

People know we have the large displays of preserved, mounted animals, including the International Wildlife Gallery and the Wild Nevada Gallery, but we have a lot of live animals. We have sharks and rays, exotic fish, reptiles, a scorpion, various animals that people can see up close. We have a nursery for baby sharks – they were born at the museum in April from eggs contributed by Shark Reef (at Mandalay Bay). And we have a Burmese python – the same kind of snake that has invaded and disrupted the environment in the Florida Everglades. This is a story we tell. We are affected by what’s happening in the environment. This is an example of how easily habitats can be disrupted.

What else is cool about the museum?

Once a month we do a mini-play on the Egyptian art of mummification. We have an Egyptian father passing on the secrets of mummification, of the art, to his son, as it actually was done. Through this, we’re able to teach the audience about the art.

Is that one of your personal favorites, the Egyptian wing?

Yes, that’s always been a keen interest, all my life. But another thing that always got me was the dinosaurs. (Huge dioramas of dinosaurs dominate the center of the museum.) And of course, I’ve always been interested in Africa, and we have the large Out of Africa exhibits.

How is the museum supported?

We are reliant upon the community. The city of Las Vegas owns the building, and the city is kind enough to provide the building rent-free. Volunteers are also essential to support our programs.

How many people visit the museum annually?

We had 85,000 visitors last year. We’d love to see more.

What else is new for the museum?

We were recently accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. That was a very big deal for us. Only 6 percent of American museums have that accreditation.

There have been a lot changes to the downtown area and the Cultural Corridor, where the museum is located. There are new museums, including the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve. Are you feeling pressure from these changes?

The Cultural Corridor is still progressing, is still a work in progress, but our problem is the building. This building was never designed to be a museum. It has our home for steady growth for 20 years, but we’re maxed out. We would like 100,000 square feet (more than twice the existing floor space).

For more information on the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, go to