T. Rex Museum Move Stymied

The Wankel T. Rex.
A close-up of the skull of the Wankel T. rex / Credit: Museum of the Rockies

What’s powerful enough to stop Tyrannosaurus rex in its tracks? The U.S. government shutdown, which halted the start of a trip for the “Wankel” T. rex from a Montana museum to its new home at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, have canceled the planned October 11 departure of the 38-foot-long dinosaur fossil, 85 percent complete, citing the shutdown of the U.S. government. The shutdown has closed the Smithsonian’s museums as well as putting some 800,000 federal workers on furlough, including Corps of Engineers personnel. (See “NASA Hit by Government Shutdown.”)

“Obviously, it is a tremendous frustration,” says NMNH director Kirk Johnson. “Here is something we had pretty well planned out for months, stopped for no good reason.”

In June, Smithsonian officials had announced the transfer from the Bozeman museum to the NMNH in Washington D.C. The fossil, one of the largest known T. rex specimens, was discovered by Montana rancher Kathy Wankel in 1988. It will become the centerpiece of a newly opened dinosaur hall, set to open in 2019 at the Smithsonian’s museum.

Plans for an arrival ceremony and celebration on the National Mall on October 16, National Fossil Day, have also been canceled. Shipment of the T. rex will have to wait until spring, Johnson says, but the delayed arrival will not affect construction plans at the museum. “We just don’t want to take any chances with winter weather and shipping a T. rex,” he adds. “They just had half a foot of snow in Montana.”

After its arrival in the spring, the public can be present when the T. rex‘s crates are opened and the fossil is reassembled for display, Johnson says. “We’re confident that the government will be up and running again by then.”


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