You might say it was a case of letting the cat out of the bag. Except that in this case the "cat" is a 40-foot-long, 10-ton crocodile.
"The Science of SuperCroc" exhibit, which has previously been seen only in Chicago, Cincinnati and the Netherlands, will open at Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History on Saturday, March 13. Museum officials and a three-person crew from Project Exploration, the exhibit's owner, are uncrating and installing the exhibit, which arrived Friday in three semi-truck loads.
The exhibit, which has as its centerpiece the 40-foot-long crocodile, will be here until Aug. 5. The exhibit also includes the actual fossil skull of the SuperCroc, a copy of the 6-foot-long skull for photo opportunities, and an interactive skeleton of the crocodile-mimic dinosaur, Suchomimus (pronounced SUE-koh-MY-mus).
"SuperCroc's scientific name is Sarcosuchus imperator (SAR-koh-soo-kus IM-peer-AH-tor), which means flesh crocodile emperor," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said at this afternoon's news conference and demonstration. "The first fossil was discovered by a French paleontologist during the 1940s and '50s. Paul Sereno discovered SuperCroc on an expedition to Niger in Africa in 2000, and it took more than a year for technicians and students to clean up the bones. Artist Gary Staab, a Hays native, fashioned the "skin" version of the croc."
The president said Staab would be in Hays on the weekend of the Grand Opening to talk about SuperCroc and how he designs and builds models of fossils. A few weeks later, Sereno will come to Hays to speak about SuperCroc and his other adventures.
"I encourage you to make plans to attend not just the Grand Opening on March 13 but the many other events associated with SuperCroc," the president said. "When you have friends and family visiting this summer, this will be a must-see while they are in Hays."
President Hammond said the preparations for SuperCroc reminded him of some of the other grand exhibitions that had visited the Sternberg. "I'm sure many of you remember 'A T.rex Named Sue' and 'Jurassic Park: The Life and Death of Dinosaurs.' Rick and Gail Kuehl also remembered. They played a major role as a sponsor for Sue, and their McDonald's restaurants are stepping forward again to serve as a major sponsor for SuperCroc."
He said other sponsors, besides McDonald's, Fort Hays State University and the Sternberg Museum, include Project Exploration, which owns SuperCroc, the Hays Convention and Visitors Center, Eagle Communications and Monster Energy drink.
He said a Facebook page had been created to keep up with all things SuperCroc. "For updates about the Science of SuperCroc exhibit at the Sternberg, go to the Facebook fan page and become a fan," he said. "Just log in to your Facebook account and search for SuperCroc at Sternberg Museum."
Dr. Reese Barrick, director of the Sternberg Museum, said he contacted Project Exploration in Chicago because it was time again "to do something spectacular."
He learned that a part of the SuperCroc exhibit was already scheduled to be in Kansas later this summer, and he was able to schedule the full exhibit for the five-month stay at the Sternberg. "This is a 10-ton major predator," he said. "That's exciting to see in western Kansas."
As part of the news conference, Sternberg and Project Exploration staff removed the top part of the skull from a crate and secured it to the already-assembled lower jaw in order to demonstrate the unpacking and assembly process.
Greg Walters, exhibits director of the Sternberg Museum, was also involved in the Sternberg's blockbuster showing of "A T.Rex Named Sue" when the museum first opened in the dome.
"I think this one's a whole lot more involved," he said. Sue was spectacular because of Sue herself, but the exhibit was a skull, the skeleton and nine interactive exhibits.
SuperCroc, the animal itself, at 40 feet is as big as Sue was, and the exhibit includes the original skull and a copy, a cast skeleton, an interactive skeleton of a dinosaur from the same period that mimicked crocodilian features, a fleshed out version of the skeleton and a fleshed out head plus an expedition tent and supplies to give a taste of what it was like to dig SuperCroc out of the Sahara. Another half-dozen or so exhibits give the context of SuperCroc's evolutionary family tree.
The installation at the Sternberg is the full "Science of SuperCroc," said Carl Gustafson, exhibits coordinator for Project Exploration. "It has a lot of size, so not a lot of places can get it all in."
SuperCroc requires a minimum of 5,000 square feet, said May Her, manager of exhibit sales at Project Exploration, one of three people the project has in Hays to help install the exhibit.
"There's about 6,500 here, so this is the full exhibit," she said.
The third member of the crew, Stacey Mann, said "Science of SuperCroc" has shock value because of the size of the beast itself but also has a great deal of content value.
"It gives a lot of context," she said. "It gives an impression of the climactic conditions of the time and its relationship to other crocodiles of the time and to modern crocodiles and to other creatures."