Mermaids, unicorns, pangolins, narwhals – these aren’t things you’d expect to see brought together in a museum. But they’re exactly what you’ll find in the Melbourne Museum’s new Fantastic Beasts exhibition, brought to Melbourne from London’s Natural History Museum.

“We’re always trying to find ways [of] public engagement to champion biodiversity conservation, but sometimes there is some fatigue in the general public,” says Linda Sproul, Melbourne Museum director of exhibitions and audience experience. “Shout-out to the Natural History Museum for taking a leap to reach out to the BBC and Warner Bros to connect science, nature and fantasy – imagination is a really good thing.”

You don’t need to be familiar with the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them guide to magical creatures to appreciate this theatrical exhibition (although Harry Potter fans might get an extra kick out of it – there’s a cast of a Dracorex hogwartsia dinosaur). Imagine science, nature and magic poured into a cocktail shaker, mixed with dashes of theatre, beauty, curiosity and philosophy, then splashed across three interactive spaces.

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In the first steps of the exhibition, you enter a space that makes connections between mythical creatures and real animals. The facts are there, but expect the line between what’s real and made-up to become blurred. Then walk through a shack-like portal – Newt Scamander’s shed – to discover a world of Fantastic Beasts. Chat with the platypus-like Niffler who’s obsessed with collecting shiny things, and Sproul’s favourite, the Erumpent (“It’s one of the most unattractive animals you’ll see, but you think ‘I kind of really love you’”), who’ll attempt to court you with its bizarre nature.

The third part is where you’ll meet real-world scientists and learn about the work they’re doing to protect endangered species. While most of the exhibition has a feel-good vibe, there’s a sad but necessary reminder of the animals that have become extinct – and those which are on the verge of it.

“It’s another window in, that allows a different way of having those conversations and to be enchanted by how wonderful the natural world is,” Sproul tells Broadsheet. “We want to celebrate real-world scientists and real-world actions. It’s a gift that there is that opportunity to bring those seemingly different worlds together. To make the creative connection and build empathy with the animals that are being threatened and how we live in the world, by linking back with Fantastic Beasts. That’s what the magic is in it.”

Fantastic Beasts is for adults and kids alike. It’s flamboyant, atmospheric, and there’s much to learn and be entertained by. Most importantly, you should “leave with a sense of hope that we can do our bit to protect these animals,” says Sproul. “It’s good to think about all the little things.
“Empathy for all things, even beasts and creepy crawlies, is important – it’s easy not to think that you are part of nature, yet you are.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Museums Victoria.