March 27, 2015 1:33 PM EDT

When the Bergen Museum in Norway closed the doors of its natural-history section for restoration in 2013, it was forced to operate an unusual migration: move thousands of taxidermied animals.

“It was a really magical place,” says Norwegian photographer Helge Skodvin, who grew up in Bergen and now lives blocks away from the historic architecture, which was founded in 1825.

“For every person living in Bergen or being raised in Bergen, the natural-history museum is a common place to spend your Sunday,” Skodvin tells TIME. “If you ask [Bergen residents], they all have stories about the museum.”

Thus when Skodvin learned about the renovation and the consequential mass “animal migration,” he wanted to be a witness.

The fragile figures, many of which haven’t been out of the antiquated display cases for almost 150 years, have to be carefully wrapped for transportation. But instead of sweating over the move as the staff did, Skodvin chose to photograph it with a sense of humor. Armed with a medium format camera and a tripod, Skodvin set each animal at the center of the frame, and then, he just “let the animals be themselves.”

The animals will spend five years hibernating in a temporary storage across town before they can finally return home in 2018. “It’s like they are going for a little vacation,” Skodvin says. Although the photographer remembered the grand space with wooden floors as frightening when he was young, the museum now offers guided tours for visitors to wander around the emptied galleries.

Helge Skodvin is a freelance photographer based in Bergen, Norway. He’s a member of Moment photo agency presented by Institute.

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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