I recently visited a major natural history museum in a U.S. city and again wondered at the tradition of displaying dead animals as so-called “live mounts.” I say “so-called” because the animals do not look alive. They just look dead, and are often displayed in unnatural poses or scenes. I will not judge the wisdom of taxidermy mounts in the past, but I sure question their use now or in the future. Much has changed since they became a major part of any natural history exhibit. I think there are many good reasons to phase them out everywhere, but here are six to think about.
- Videography is widely available and shows any animal in its natural habitat, behaving normally. You learn little from a still scene with stuffed animals other than how the taxidermist feels the animal might have looked at one particular second in time.
- Some young people see taxidermy animals and want their own trophy. Encouraging trophy hunting in a world with declining wildlife populations is a dubious choice. A camera captures a trophy shot or video of a living creature that is far more easily shared with others than a mounted specimen. Why would we not choose that option over killing an animal for anything less than our own survival?
Many older live mounts were preserved with arsenic to discourage insect damage. Placing these specimens where the public can touch them to feel the fur is a bad idea. It transfers the arsenic to anyone who touches it and hastens the loss of fur on the specimen.
- People who see a taxidermy mount often ask, “How did you obtain that?” You are faced with the opportunity to say it was found dead or tell the unflattering truth that it was shot or trapped to become a display. In either case the person asking will likely be wondering if your organization’s ethical position is one they want to support.
- Even expertly mounted specimens do not always look like the live animal. It is not easy to precisely recreate its look when building a body from artificial materials. In some cases, specimens are placed out of context or in juxtaposition with other animals in a scenario that would be highly unlikely in nature, misrepresenting reality and negating any educational value that might be gained from the display.
Taxidermy mounts often show only a single example of a species and sometimes that example is the largest, the most unusual, or some other hyperbolic example instead of the average. The diversity of colors and shapes among that species may be bypassed. The man-eating lions of Tsavo National Park in Kenya were anomalies in lion behavior but display of them at a Chicago museum keeps this unique and frightening story alive instead of celebrating the important role that lions play in African savannahs, usually with very little danger to humans if we behave appropriately.
My views on this grew from observing people viewing taxidermy mounts at a state park visitor center in Illinois in 1972. I watched and listened as children approached them and asked questions of us. A few weeks into that job, I pulled all of them off display and moved toward photography and works of art to show examples of animals. I enjoyed not explaining how we came to be displaying dead animals at a place where we were charged with protecting living animals. I had inherited the exhibit from a previous manager, but could not ethically keep it in front of the public.
The media we choose to interpret natural history also tells people quite a lot about our ethics. Isn’t it time to take dead animals off display and share the amazing experiences of seeing them in nature?
– Tim Merriman
25 thoughts on “Six Good Reasons to Stop Displaying Taxidermy Animals”
I recently accepted a Bull Moose shoulder mount for display at our Nature Center. I did so reluctantly. He was illegally taken in Saskatchwan and ended up in West Virginia. I’m telling his story of poaching and how it’s very different from other hunts as they relate to carrying capacity on an overpopulated deer herd. Other than that, I’m getting rid of all our our old (and I mean ancient, like early 1900s) taxidermy. I agree that it’s incredibly uncomfortable to try to explain why that particular critter is inside rather than out. I know the Moose’s story and I can tell it to help change a behavior.
Thanks for commenting. There are lots of things to consider with this question. I always think it’s good to tell people specific stories that explain how such a mount came into your hands. Tim
Sorry, this is another rose colored glass, knee jerk reaction. How about your #1. Let’s start giving our wives pictures of diamond rings, let’s give the pictures videos of what an Xbox looks like. This is the same idiotic notion that led the current crew to burn tons of ivory to thwart the worldwide black market of it. Just for a milisecond, think about that logic. We have to destroy it to protect it????? Really??? All it did was remove what might have glutted that market and created a vacuum that poachers simple were overjoyed to hear. Your #2 is simply a lie and a fancy dream on your part. Hunter numbers are increasing in America with women being the main factor. “Trophy hunting” is the same as your “gas guzzling SUV” buzz words. When animals have value to hunters, ALL WILDLIFE enjoys the benefits. Whitetail, pronghorn, bison, and wild turkey were decimated until hunters stepped in, imposed licenses, seasons and even taxes to pay for habitat renewal. That habitat allowed mice, voles, song birds, foxes, and eagles to prosper. #3 is nothing more than a scare tactic. Arsenic SOAP was used decades ago, but it’s not something one can contract through breathing the air or touching the skin. Arsenic is a heavy metal that would need some serious contact, ingestion, and consumption to pose a real hazzard. You’re more likely to be contaminated with asbestos than arsenic. #4 is simply political correctness. How did you get those shrimp at Red Lobster or how was this steak obtain at Texas Roadhouse? Get a grip. #5 is cute. Imagine if we looked at all the people coming through the doors of the museum. Think your description would fit with them as well. Is your next justification to eliminate all zoos? Sure sounds that way. Finally, #6 is just one more anthropocentric grasp at reality. No one wants to see people in nursing homes or asylums. Many people aschew hospital visits as they’d rather not see the down side of life. All of us think that obituaries need to contain pictures of the person at the peak of their health and as vibrant as they always were. I understand this is your post and you can tell any lies that make you feel better. Some of us don’t have to digest them, however.
Tim, you may have already seen this article in Nat Geo http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/taxidermy/christy-text but since I just read it yesterday, I was very interested in what you had to say about taxidermy. I thought the Nat Geo article was well done and I was especially interested in the technique of mounting “animals” that uses no animal products. I’m still thinking about whether or not there is a place for mounted animal displays in interpretation…it is true that a video of a moving, breathing animal seems to be a much better way to promote a connection to an animal.
It’s an excellent article and gives some of the important stories behind taxidermy. I give no criticism of past uses of taxidermy and I do appreciate the conservationists who started out doing this work. I personally skinned and stuffed about 100 birds as study skins, collected from window kills and road kills. I see why zoology departments keep physical records of variation, and now even samples of the DNA of animals. If we need life-size examples of specific animals for display, then re-creations are the best choice in my view. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum shows life-size re-creations of celebrities and varied other historical characters. If we suggested they stuff the real person, we would consider that ghoulish. We simply regard ourselves as more important than animals and rarely accord them the same respect that we demand for our own kind. Aldo Leopold wrote, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” I will continue to hope that we will begin to see other animals as sharing the planet with us, not living or dying as we wish or want. I respect anyone’s desire to hunt and eat what they kill within the law, but have little respect for those who kill to stuff and display a head, a body, a pelt. I think that time has passed both ethically and practically.
Thanks for comments. I value this dialogue and judging from readership numbers on my blog, this discussion is regarded as important. That is good in my view.
Read more Aldo Leopold quotes at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/aldo_leopold.html#KwU6BWPxvSUJ5q0s.99
It is interesting the author used Aldo Leopold to support removing taxidermy animals from natural history displays. I highly suspect he would disagree with this idea. Leopold was, of course, an avid hunter. The quote that comes to mind when I read the article is also by Leopold:
“A man may not care for golf and still be human, but the man who does
not like to see, hunt, photograph, or otherwise outwit birds or animals is
hardly normal. He is supercivilized, and I for one do not know how to
deal with him.”
I strongly agree with the comment that videography alone only further disconnects people from nature (though I would encourage the use of both videography and taxidermy). Yes, the animals displayed by taxidermy were shot, but the following explanation in that conversation should be how important hunting is to conservation, management, and outdoorsmanship. I gather the author is not a hunter, and does not have a first hand understanding of how hunting weaves a deep connection and understanding between the hunter and their prey. A true hunter would try to explain this, but know they will fail. Furthermore, most animals are not killed for the purpose of putting them on display, they are killed for the meat, the experience, the hunt, and many other reasons. This does not mean they cannot also be on display, indeed every hunter I know with an animal on display can look at that animal and immediately and vividly re-live that day. They proudly display a set of deer antlers because they deeply respect that animal and cherish the experience and opportunity to pursue it. Everyone of these animals was also table fare – a taxidermy mount and harvesting for meat are not mutually exclusive.
In today’s increasingly urbanized and “supercivilized” world the movement away from direct contact with nature is devastating to conservation efforts. I agree with Leopold that “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”. However, I disagree that the path to a greater connection to the land and its riches is through TV screens.
Like Leopold, I grew up hunting and fishing and my love for the outdoors grew through that familiarity with places “wild and free.” But Leopold also wrote “”In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf,” Leopold later said. “I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no more wolves would mean a hunters’ paradise.” But after seeing the “fierce green fire” in the wolf’s eyes die out, he wrote, “I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” I hunted and ate what I killed. I grew up in farming country in Illinois and I still have no objection to hunting when done sustainably and legally. I see trophy hunting and display of stuff animals differently. Over time we have stopped market hunting, year-round (no season) hunting, and predator bounties as our understanding of wildlife management grew. A discussion of these specific practices, trophy hunting and taxidermy, is not a blanket condemnation of hunting. I am a biologist, a naturalist, a guide, an interpreter, a fisherman, a wildlife photographer, an ecologist and would still hunt if I needed to get food in that way. Deepened understandings of the implications of our actions will continue to change our practices over time. After forty years of taking people into nature to explore and learn, I think the experience of watching animals in nature is valuable whether done on a nature walk or hunting.
Thanks for your comments. Tim
Mounted specimens are far from ideal but videography is worse. Nature becomes just another reality show that exists only on a flat screen. With a munted animal you at least see somthing of the real animal, even if it’s only how big or little it is compared to you. Video images are simply shadows with exit into reality.
I agree that videography can be worse, but it can be much better. The ethics of wildlife photography and videography are important also. Chris Palmer, a wildlife videographer, who teaches at American University writes about the decision making that goes into his craft (https://wildlifefilmnews.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/mass-media-ethics-in-films-and-videos/). Exhibit designers also have the opportunity to be sensational in approach or accurate and thought provoking. Any interpretation of nature and history carries the responsibility of trying to do the job better and more ethically. I am disappointed in how many of the Animal Planet, Discover and National Geographic Explorer shows have become “reality shows” with little real effort to help people understand nature as it is, not sensationalized and not trivialized. But some videographers do it very well and have helped us understand the natural world with their careful work. Thanks for commenting. Tim
All the reasoning here reeks of the animal rights movement. The reasons here are similar to anti disection logic.
As an educator and a staunch conservationist who very deeply loves animals and nature this angers me beyond words.
Keep putting distance between people and animals, the further the divide between understanding life and death the less responsible people feel for their footprint.
I am not an animal rights advocate per se. I belong to no animal rights organizations. But as an educator, naturalist and interpreter of nature for 46 years, I am an advocate for the ethical treatment of animals. Read my bio on Linkedin.com if you’re curious. Tim
Unnatural poses and unnatural environments? Do you just make this stuff up because you’re out of “bad” things to say about the subject? Museums and taxidermists most often than not go to great lengths to ensure that the environments and behaviors of the animals are captured to as true to form as possible. I’d really like to see some of the sources you used when making these accusations please.
I was wondering why there was a huge lack of negative responses to this astronomically ignorant post of your that displays such a huge lack of knowledge pertaining to not only taxidermy but large number of other issues like hunting, preservation, and education. I guess you just review all of the posts before they are displayed and just delete the ones you do not agree with? That’ll help promote the discussion of these important topics. Very sad and pathetic…
I approve all comments regardless of point of view as long as they address the blog article content and are not trying to sell everyone drugs or some other useless item. Read my bio on Linkedin.com before judging me incompetent in the fields of education, science and communication. Regarding your other comment I can only say this is a blog, an opinion article. You are welcome to your opinion and I am happy to debate the details of anything I’ve said. Tim
This article saddens me greatly. Museums are a place where people from any walk of life or background can come see things in person they may otherwise not, including animals.
NOTHING will ever beat seeing the magnitude of an animal in person and seeing both the evolution of the animals along with the evolution and history of the art form that is taxidermy.
Photos and videography? By that logic everything in a museum could just be photos and videography. So then what’s the point of visiting a museum when you can just sit behind a computer screen instead?
People are already becoming so disconnected and impersonable. We do not need it to continue on an educational level as well.
I have not suggested that videography be the only media. I am not suggesting the removal of skeletons found in digs, pelts from the historical fur trade or any other artifacts related to animal life. But I will suggest that many museums display stuffed animals, behind glass in dioramas, when many more dynamic media options are available. Exhibit providers now have the ability to fabricate full-sized animals without use of the animal’s body or skin. Skeletons are cast from plastic and can be made more touchable without handling artifacts from collections. The best museums are designing exhibits that are more interactive, experiential and reflect the best ethical practices related to cultural practices and artifact preservation. A static diorama with stuffed animals behind glass is about as disconnected and impersonal as an exhibit can get.
Thanks for your comments. We work with museums, zoos, nature centers, aquariums, parks, forests and refuges to help them become more engaging and deepen the guest’s understanding of nature and cultures. Tim
All those artificial materials are *worse* for the environment than taxidermy. I am sure you’re aware of the pollution that results from petroleum, which is used to make most plastics, and that plastics are not only not biodegradable but result in the deaths of thousands of animals every year, from strangulation to starvation to intestinal impaction. Taxidermy results in the death of a single animal, often with a single well-placed bullet–much more humane than the collapse of an ocean ecosystem because all the plankton are dying from plastic pollution.
The taxidermy mounts could be much better displayed–360 degree viewing rather than stuck behind a glass wall. Videos are a nice complement to taxidermy, but they don’t convey the sheer size of animals, or the details in fur, feathers, etc.
Anyone who can do a decent synthetic re-creation of an animal already has experience with taxidermy, carcass casting, and cutting critters up to understand their anatomy. Some of the museum re-creations of extinct animals that I’ve seen have been pretty amazing! But for animals still living, they fall short of a mount using the real skin. Skilled taxidermists doing museum work these days don’t just mount something how they “feel” it should look, they have extensive knowledge of the animal and use reference to get correct anatomy, biomechanics, behavior, habitat, etc.
As a kid, museum taxidermy dioramas blew my mind and were one of the things that got me interested in nature. This was at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis. Sadly, some of their dioramas are now in danger of being destroyed as they move to a different building. Videos and other things can be nice in addition to the taxidermy. But a good diorama is something you can totally lose yourself in and feel like you’re out in nature, while still having the physical presence that videos and other media don’t have.
For someone who purports to understand museums and their role in society you seek very lacking in vision. One of the wealthiest industrialists who ever gave money to build a museum, Andrew Carnegie, decided that a museum was a way to bring the world to those who cannot afford to see it. Granted that was in an era when Pittsburgh was a mill town and only the very few could ever expect to even visit another city let alone go to Europe to see sculptures and painting, or visit the Dark Continent , or even sites in North America. Your audience, those that take travel trips around the world on your eco-tours, are still the elite. Of the 9 million people in the New York area, or the 3 or so million in Chicago area, only perhaps 2% have enough disposable income to travel with your elite group and probably 80% of the people never get to see the Rocky Mountains in their lifetime. The latter are the “customers” that are served by the big urban center museums. They may only visit once in their lifetime in a school trip, but I believe it gives a lasting experience for these 80%.
Seeing REAL things in a context of their habitat allows a 3 dimensional view of a place in time complete with the vegetation and background and generally a family group or story to go along with it. Viewing a story on the National Geographic or Discovery Channel or on a YouTube video isn’t any sort of substitute for sideling up to a well done diorama and letting your mind drift. Without Taxidermy, a Natural History Museum is essentially obsolete. In your mind they would be sets of paleontological exhibits and then Marty Stouffer or Marlin Perkins’ video’s and images.
I saw my first “Plastic animal exhibit” on a trip taking my daughter out west after she finished undergraduate work. The Badlands had a thoroughly ridiculous set of sculptures of plastic bighorns, antelope and others. Replacement of real specimens with plastic animals is no substitute for real and it looked horrible. The backgrounds were photographs blown up – not artwork which gives emotion to the piece. As others have said, why have an art museum when you can simply view paintings via the web on your 50 inch plasma television. The same goes for Eco-tours. Why pay money to go visit a place in Africa when a good documentary about Dianne Fosse on television saves you so much money and you can see close-up “Videographic” views of the animals you may barely glimpse on a real tour.
It is hard to formulate a reasoned response when the views you publish seem totally foreign to every view I have had since I was a toddler almost 60 years ago. I suppose I could address all of your “good reasons” not to use taxidermy. The first I have addressed above.
The second point you put forth deals with people hunting animals. Perhaps not in you, but the vast majority of outdoorsman enjoy hunting and matching their wits against wildlife in the pursuit of primarily food. 90% of the meat I eat on a yearly basis is wild caught, and having an animal live its’ life free until it is harvested in my mind is much better than cramming 100,000 chickens in a hothouse or keeping beef cattle on a cement slab.
The memories created when a “trophy animal” is taken, which is any animal harvested, be it a spike deer or a spring turkey will be remembered best by viewing a preserved specimen. My grandfather shot a bear in 1939 and I have a photograph of him standing next to it hanging near the barn, but he had a rug made and it had been viewed thousands of time and recreated memories of the hunt. That mount and a couple deer mounted circa 1918-1920 were all the mounts he had done, but it inspired me to take up taxidermy having seen them for decades. I still have them, and they are cherished items from an era long past.
Most conservationists began with hunting and many with taxidermy. Teddy Roosevelt was a dedicated hunter and taxidermist who preserved vast stretches of land. William T. Hornaday became a devote conservationist after being one of the leading taxidermists in the world and was instrumental through lobbying many of the wildlife laws we have today. Carl Akeley of notable fame also hunted many animals and was a famous taxidermist but was instrumental in forming the Gorilla preserve in the Congo.
Hunting animals gives you empathy for them while at the same time trying to preserve their kind. It was hunters who brought back the Buffalo and Pronghorn and many wild animals that were threatened in the wild. Most hunted animals are not declining. Most declining wildlife are where poachers or illegal trade is dealing with animals sought for “medicinal” uses in the Far East – Rhino Horn, exotic turtles, and similar items.
Your third point, about arsenic laced animals being put out for handling is totally incorrect. No museum puts out specimens for touching if they were preserved with arsenic or mercury compounds or any other poisonous material. Any touchable is new material that is tanned much like a fur coat, or shoe leather with hair left on. I maintain that allowing a museum patron the experience of standing next to a Bison mount, as I assume depicted in your story, and caressing the curly hair is an experience much safer than standing down the same animal in Yellowstone and then getting gored as has happened a handful of times this year. Our museum has a displayed full-size bison that has been touchable for almost 20 years now in an Indian Hall. There is a few worn spots, and at some time in the future may need to be replaced, but the mount has earned its’ cost, especially when it was an older captive animal being put down, but still fed many mouths after we removed the hide for taxidermy.
Your fourth point concerns primarily “ethics” of collecting animals for display. Museums generally benefited from past wealthy hunters who would fund the creation of a display to hold animals they harvested. Sometimes the larger museums would go and harvest animals themselves, but in many cases the animals portrayed were hunted as you say. Virtually all were hunted “ethically” by legal means at the time and imported legally. Ethics change over time, I would certainly agree with that, but in the era most the wild animal dioramas were created, Zoos were housing lions in 15 x 20 feet cement floor cages. A zoo, even now is in many ways torturing an animal by not allowing it to live freely. Patrons of zoos see a tiger or lion that has to be replaced every 10 or 15 years and maintained, feeding it at huge cost. Contrast that to a lion mount, harvested 80 years ago, that can be seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors in a large museum every year. The exhibit the Lions of Tsavo, I would say have been viewed multiple millions of times and tell a story worth telling over to every generation. The movie probably would not have been made had the taxidermy not reminded us of that time in a certain place where lions fed on people in bulk.
The fifth point could certainly be valid in a poorly funded museum which cannot keep up with current art in taxidermy. Current taxidermy is better than it has ever been with the various organizations getting together in conventions worldwide sharing techniques and materials in creating dynamic realistic mounting procedures. The World Show which has received unbelievable coverage has shown how far taxidermy has come in the last 40 years. Even the far liberal New York Times recognized how far taxidermists have come:
Putting animals “out of context or juxtaposition with other animals” is probably done by museum exhibit designers and not the true outdoorsmen that the museum taxidermists are, or have been. Unfortunately, few museums now have taxidermists on staff, and in-fact, many people currently running museums never were brought up in an area where there were wild animals running around or even hunted. There is something to be gained by being raised in the country vs. being a city folk who became aware of the outdoors because of some romanticism they read about in a Thoreau novel or piece by John Muir. I saw some of this same sort of thing while working three summers in the National Park Service in the late 1970’s, and in graduate school in a big ten college. The park employees didn’t understand the web of life and were fascinated by seeing their first deer at the age of 25. A fellow graduate student working on muskrats at first couldn’t catch one even though he was working on his Ph.D. People raised in wild areas grow during their formative years becoming one with the woods or prairies or desert where they were raised.
I don’t anticipate changing your mind in any way. Your view of taxidermy is like your personal religion, as is my view of taxidermy and its’ use in display. I will never change your views, nor you mine, but I could consciously not respond to your post. And that is MY heartfelt truth.
Thanks for your comments. We do not agree on some points but we agree on much of what you wrote. I do honor the past role that taxidermy has played in the interpretation of natural history. Times change and our approaches evolve. My article addresses why I think our values about displaying “dead animals”as live mounts should change now. Tim
This is excellent suggestion TIM and I will have a meeting with my staff tomorrow. Will definitely help to protect the animals rather than killing them for the sake of mere displaying them when technology can replace them. Thanks TIM
Thanks for your comment, Aaron. I hope all is well with you and the Museums of Malawi.
Interesting read, but honestly I’d rather taxidermy (and bones!) be a part of people’s viewing experience.
I personally have used taxidermy, skulls, skeletal articulations, and pelts for educational exhibits, so I do come with a bias. But between my own life as well as seeing first-hand how people interact with it, I really can see the good of it.
1) Videography and photography is great! But let’s be honest, how long can you hold people’s attention? I was always that kid who begged my mom for movies about animals (documentaries and the like), but I know even I got scatter brained after a short while of viewing. Or the never-fail scene of animals mating would come on and I’d leave the room because I knew how sex works and wasn’t interested in watching it. Heck, even now as an adult most movies and shows put me to sleep, even if I was really interested in them and genuinely wanted to watch them. We live in the age of Youtube and Vine (well, used to have Vine…RIP, lol). Attention spans with videos tend to be short. I’ve especially noticed when observing museums that videos playing tend to go unwatched. People get bored and walk away, the movie takes too long, the audio quality isn’t good, or it’s on a loop people don’t want to watch because they didn’t come in from the beginning. Likewise photography is great, but how often do you catch people actually stopping for long enough to truly study a piece, never the less read a blurb next to it? I catch myself rushing galleries when I go to them and have to remind myself to stop and appreciate things. We live in a go! go! go! world.
So how does this relate to taxidermy? Taxidermy isn’t something you see every day, unlike videos and pictures which are literally available by the billions at the click of a mouse. And children especially seem very drawn to taxidermy. When it’s something you’re allowed to touch, that interest increases tenfold. Kids (and heck, adults too!) love being interactive. Taxidermy offers a unique experience where you not only get to see the animal not-quite-live but in person, but in some environments you also get to touch it. You get to see in person how large or small an animal is. You get to inspect its features up-close, much closer than you’ll ever get with a video or photo or even a live animal (or so I hope!). You get to feel their fur (or feathers, or scales, or skin), check out their claws, and see replications of their teeth. It’s fascinating to many people. Because taxidermy is out of the ordinary people tend to stop and make time for it. Now plaques may be just as ineffective with taxidermy as they are with pictures, but I’ve noticed kids asking a lot more questions around my taxidermy and bone pieces than other stuff around them. I think taxidermy is best when used in addition with other material. When you allow hands-on stuff, it really allows for a wonderful teaching experience. Taxidermy can be a great conversation starter.
2) Some will want their own. But that’s when you take that opportunity to talk to those young folk about issues like what species are endangered, and what problems populations are facing (eg. hunting, or habitat loss). I’d also talk to them about black markets and why they’re bad. You can talk about hunting politics, and conservation efforts, and how hunting can help or harm them (some hunting actually does benefit conservation). I know when I was a child I was fascinated with taxidermy mounts, and my most memorable trip was in the 6th grade when we got to view dozens of taxidermy animal mounts. I was crying, I was so sad that the animals were dead, but I also spent our entire museum trip in the animal section reading about them and taking pictures of them and later when I went home I went and learned what I could do to help preserve their habitat and populations. I really have taxidermy to thank for my contributions to wildlife and habitat preservation and restoration. Most people I meet who see my taxidermy/bone specimens show no interest in obtaining their own by any means, never the less going out and killing an animal for it. I’ve seen more people have the exact opposite reaction, in fact.
3) Older mounts are not usually out where people can touch them, for safety reasons as well as preserving the mount. I have yet to see any older mount on display in touching distance. Newer mounts aren’t preserved with anything that will be dangerous as a taxidermy mount. This is a moot point.
4) “How did you obtain that?” is a wonderful question! I dare say it’s one of my favorite questions! My state has a mobile Fish and Game exhibit that’s all about poaching. There’s stories next to the taxidermy mounts/bones about how that animal was found (poached). There’s also information about how to prevent and report poaching. The taxidermy trailer garners WAY more attention than their table at every event I’ve seen them at, even though they have tons of freebies for people to grab at their table. This question opens up so many different discussions about so many different topics and issues. I can talk to people about how trapping can use a little more regulation in my state (the “check traps every 4 days” law drives me nuts!! why not more frequently?), I can talk about how coyote derbies still happen in our state and how we can stop them, I even have a cat skeleton that has brought up conversations about issues with feral and outdoor cats (though this cat was a study specimen, but still, it opens up that conversation!). Do those animals some respect and tell their stories while you have people’s attention. You can enlighten people to a whole slew of issues they’ve never even heard of before.
5) Expertly mounted animals most certainly look like the live animal, otherwise they’re not expertly mounted. Taxidermy has come a long way from its origins, and now at competitions they get down into so much detail that you can lose to someone else because the details inside of your animal’s nostrils were lacking. I visited a taxidermy competition once and listening to the people judging was insane. When I talked with a taxidermist about choosing poses it was amazing how they had to not only consider what was natural, but also what people would recognize as natural and why you would want to make a piece. Taxidermy is the art of making the dead appear alive. The entire composition of the piece is considered. Museums or other educational facilities shouldn’t skimp on taxidermist choice, especially when there’s so many out there who are certainly qualified to make a good mount or other display and many who dream of having their mount in a museum some day. Quite honestly I don’t think there’s any excuse to get bad work. If price is the issue, then taxidermy shouldn’t be considered. When all is said and done some species we only have the dead remains of. Taxidermy mounts then become invaluable when a species goes extinct. It becomes all we have left aside from videos and pictures, if we even have those. Seeing the animal in person is always much more immersive than seeing a picture or video and having a taxidermy mount around can provide a lot more information, not to mention DNA samples. As museum specimens, I think these can be excellent to learn from, plus they permanently capture the past in a way that still keeps them very real.
6) They do only show a single member of that species (unless mounted in a group), however other mediums can be just as guilty of this. The exhibit you’re talking about, for example, instead could be playing a footage loop about those man-eating lions and have nothing else as well. These are problems with the display, not the taxidermy itself. Personally I think having the unusual examples are just as important as having the normal animals. The vital part is labeling. Now I’ve never been to Illinois, never the less seen that museum, but they could easily say, “These were very unique lions and unlike any other. Most lions don’t kill people and are very important to their habitat.” then go on about the majority of lions and their niche in the world. Instead of being a horror story about how lions are scary and deadly (which people should know not to mess with a lion!), they could use that very same exhibit to point out how unusual this behavior is. I’ve also seen taxidermy mounts that exhibited unusual and rare coloration, such as leucistic or albino animals, and have further information about interesting and unique these traits are and how they can come to be, genetically speaking. That stuff is pretty neat to learn about! I know at least one person who further studied genetics because of these kind of taxidermy mounts. Even the outliers can be educational, not to mention inspirational. It’s all a matter of how it’s done.
I love watching kids’ faces light up when they get something hands-on to work with. I love watching them point out claws, poke at the fake teeth, pet an animal’s fur, hold their hands up to parts of the animal to compare size, and let out a small, “Wooooow!” I love seeing kids engaged and their parents sitting down and talking to them about animals and asking me questions as well. Taxidermy and animal parts really draw kids in, especially if they’re allowed to touch it. There’s so much existing taxidermy out there, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be used for education. And not all of it comes from animals who were hunted, either. Instead of letting taxidermy go to waste I’d rather see it used to educate others any day of the week. Taxidermy allows people to get up close and personal with animals they might otherwise never see in their lives outside of a photograph or video. I’d say that kind of experience just doesn’t compare. There’s a spark of curiosity in all of us, and taxidermy or other oddities can be the match for some people. Until I stop getting people showing interest in animals after viewing a taxidermy mount, I don’t think I’ll ever see taxidermy as outdated. It’s a useful educational tool that will be what you make it to be, just as much as a photograph or video.
Videos only are terrible. The ability to touch and feel an animal that would normally kill you being that close I think is better. Taxidermy is a preservation of a once living animal. Yes they’re shot, but they’re also using it for meat. I haven’t met one hunter who doesn’t eat everything they shoot. As stated, hunting keeps animal population in check.
I agree that videos are greatly educational, but if you didn’t have people dissecting, studying, and piecing these animals back together like we do with humans, we’d never understand how they work.
Seeing a large animal as it once was, being able to look at it in person and just imagine the immense force behind it, is amazing. Not all kids want to have an animal mount just because they saw it.
Well written piece, Tim! Thank you for your contribution, I agree with many of your points.