Six Good Reasons to Stop Displaying Taxidermy Animals

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 NSbisonclassroommany 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?
  • Making a stuffed animal "touchable" usually results in degradation of the skin and fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.

    Making a stuffed animal “touchable” usually results in loss of fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.

    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.
  • Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.

    Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.

    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

 

 

 

Encouraging a Community of Arts

Today we stopped by the Donkey Mill Art Center just south of Holualoa, Hawaii, and enjoyed a small but fascinating exhibit based on area artists taking the challenge of creating a unique work of art from one eight foot two by four, the most basic unit in wood home construction. The variety of results achieved by the artists inspired us.

 

By Kathleen Dunphry

By Kathleen Dumphry

I actually liked all of the pieces to varying degree. The burnt one to create charcoal to write on a graffiti panel, the carved birds and chameleon, the large colorful face, the sidewinder and the people figures were my favorites (my names for the examples, not the names provided by the artists). The Art Center invited the artists to participate in this year’s event, but may offer a more open event in the future that would allow anyone to submit a creative 2x4x8’ entry.

 

We have lived near Holualoa the past eight months while building a new home near Kealakekua Bay about fifteen miles further south. Holualoa is a charming heritage community that has seen good times and tough times over the last century and a half with the economic challenges of growing sugar cane, coffee and avocado on the rugged terrain of Hualalai, one of the five

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii. But even before European and Asian farmers began larger scale production of those crops, the area comprised part of the ancient Kona Field System that Hawaiians used to raise breadfruit and other crops. In recent years Holualoa has become well known, not only for its exceptional Kona Coffee, but for the many artists and art shops in the two-block downtown area.

 

Started in 1994, Donkey Mill Art Center states their vision as”

 

We are a gathering place where people develop as creative, conscious and healthy human beings through art, education and experience.

 

Charcoal by April Matthews.

Charcoal by April Matthews.

They offer art education and experiences to people of all ages and abilities at the center, which is a beautifully restored part of the agricultural history of the community. Holualoa hosts a “community stroll” one Friday evening each month that keeps the varied creative businesses and cafes open later than usual to invite everyone to stop by and enjoy “pupus” (snacks), beverages and local music while celebrating the artistic creations of the community.

 

Several thoughts come to mind from looking at the important work of Donkey Mill Art Center.

  • Communities with an artistic vision create a very strong sense of place that brings people, stories, and ideas together to grow and embrace heritage.
  • A simple challenge like “make something creative from an 8 foot 2X4” can demonstrate the depth and power of creativity in any community.
  • Cultural heritage, agricultural identity and artistic endeavors create a beautiful community fabric of expression, a stronger identity.

 

Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Art centers are often seen in large metropolitan communities but this one in a small town makes the point that the arts help us identify our own sense of self and place and could be in any community. The creative 2x4x8 exhibit could be used by nature centers, zoos, aquariums, museums and parks as a way of bringing attention to recycling, reuse, biodiversity, and any number of other concepts. Creative expression is a great way to engage people of all ages and build a stronger community. Kudos to the Donkey Mill Art Center.

 

– Tim Merriman