Repatriation Milestone: Specimen of 170-Year-Old Jamaican Giant Galliwasp returns home

by May 10, 2024

A rare Jamaican Giant Galliwasp (Celestus occiduus) specimen kept in The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow in Scotland since the 1800s has finally returned to its homeland. Its return to Jamaica marks the successful joint repatriation operation between The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and the University of Glasgow (UofG). To ensure the safe journey of the specimen, a team of experts from The UWI and the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) travelled to Scotland from April 18 to 24.

UWI x IOJ Repatriation Team
L-R: Dionne Newell, Senior Research Officer in Entomology at IOJ, Desireina Delancy, Graduate Student, The UWI, Mona, Dr Tannice Hall, Entomologist and Lecturer, Life Sciences, The UWI Mona, Elizabeth Morrison, Zoologist Curator at IOJ, Museum and Dr Shani Roper, Curator at The UWI Museum.

Dr Shani Roper, Curator, The UWI Museum who served as the University’s lead coordinator, commented on the expedition, saying, “The trip allowed us to achieve the end goal of repatriation and also provided an opportunity for team members to explore Caribbean fauna collections in Scotland, facilitating knowledge sharing and further collaborations. This programme not only built bridges between the institutions but also established best practice for Caribbean museums contemplating repatriation and supports regional reparative justice agendas.

Steph Scholten, Director, The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow and Dr Shani Roper, Curator, The UWI Museum

Dr Shani Roper, Curator, The UWI Museum and Mike G. Rutherford, Curator of Zoology & Anatomy, The Hunterian with Celeste, the Jamaican Giant Galliwasp specimen

Now that it’s in Jamaica, the Galliwasp specimen’s permanent home is the country’s National History Museum. An official handover will be held on May 22, formalising its entry into the national museum to facilitate public viewing, scientific study, and research about this lost species and its role in the Jamaican ecosystem.

The return of the Galliwasp signifies more than the homecoming of a specimen; it symbolizes an important milestone for scientific research, cultural heritage preservation in the region, and repatriation as part of the reparatory justice for the Caribbean. The UWI remains steadfast in its commitment to greater advocacy and consciousness-raising of the reparatory justice movement which deals with various issues of different scales.