Helen Cowie
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Sloth bones and anteater tongues
Gathering nature’s wonders
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This chapter examines how Spain harnessed the riches of her vast empire to enrich the Real Gabinete and its counterpart the Real Jardín Botanico. The Gabinete's preoccupation with retaining control of the giant sloth evidences, nevertheless, a desire to consolidate Spanish scientific credentials and to make the Real Gabinete a centre for research into prehistoric quadrupeds. The chapter considers the material contribution of the expeditions in stocking the Real Gabinete and the Real Jardín Botanico. The Real Gabinete likewise constituted a notable source of American wonders for the rest of Europe, particularly in the mineral department. The chapter discusses the classificatory systems imposed on American flora and fauna by the travelling naturalists. The Times heralded the anteater as 'the most remarkable animal which they have acquired since the hippopotamus'. The novelist Charles Dickens, characterised the anteater as 'a zoological wonder', gleefully anticipating a deluge of ant-bear-inspired memorabilia.

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