AP PHOTOS: Long-dead critters animate Israel's nature museum

TEL AVIV, Israel — The hyena, pelican and monkey had never met before they were frozen in time in a Noah's Ark of formaldehyde.

For decades they resided below ground at Tel Aviv University.

The creatures were meticulously labeled and maintained under a steady temperature to preserve them for research purposes.

But the animals never did appear to be dead in the room with little air or daylight.

They were stuffed into poses taken from the lives they once lived. A bear seemed to prowl the room, as a cheetah looked like it was chasing its prey.

Part of the collection is from German naturalist and Catholic priest Ernst Johann Schmitz, who lived in the Holy Land about a century ago, and it includes animals that are no longer seen in the region.

Last month, the long-dead animals surfaced — reincarnated as exhibits at Israel's new natural history museum, which is set to open in July.

The ultra-modern ark-shaped edifice is set alongside the university campus and houses over 5.5 million specimens of species from around the globe.

But the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History places special emphasis on the flora and fauna indigenous to the Holy Land and Middle East.

The museum's curators say the institution — ticketed as the only natural history research center in the Middle East — aims to raise public awareness about the natural world and environment by highlighting both the country's ecological diversity at the crossroads of three continents, and the devastation wrought by modern development.

The museum's single exhibit on human evolution is situated on the top floor, allowing any visitors who may find the subject objectionable for religious reasons to easily bypass it.

Associated Press photographer Oded Balilty was granted access to the animal storeroom ahead of the museum's opening. Here are his impressions.

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