Growing from a donated private collection, the Cole Museum of Zoology allows visitors to take a tour down the taxonomic line via ordered displays of biology including the skeleton of a former circus elephant that seems to be galloping after a flying whale skeleton.
Moved to its current location in the 1970’s, the collection once belonged to early 1900’s University of Reading Professor of Zoology Francis J. Cole who collected over 3,500 specimens and exhibits that he gave to the university to display. The exhibit was initially quite small, but the space was refurbished and slightly expanded in 2004, so that today, around 400 of the 3,500 items in the collection are on display at any given time. The most remarkable exhibits in the collection include a complete elephant skeleton that once filled out the skin of a circus elephant, which is posed behind the hanging skeleton of a false killer whale, creating a morbid scene that has never occurred in nature. The museum also includes the complete skeleton of a reticulated python with over 400 vertebrae, the remains of a pair of giant spider crabs, and a fossil of the largest spider that has ever lived.
The displays are arranged in taxonomic order so that visits are orderly and efficient, generally taking less than an hour to walk straight through the entire animal kingdom. Save for the large animal skeletons, which are displayed in ways that one will never see in nature, but probably wishes they could.