Swellboy on… taxidermy

Our man bears witness to the ultimate diorama, complete with predators clashing over a walrus

Image: Brijesh Patel

One of the things that impressed me most about Safari Club International’s big-game convention in Las Vegas was the taxidermy. I incline towards an anthropomorphic style of stuffed animal that is more along Victorian lines: rats fencing, squirrels boxing, that sort of thing.

But as so often in America, the thinking is a little bit bigger and more ambitious. So, whereas our 19th-century forebears were minded to turn elephant’s feet into umbrella stands, in the US the subjects are more monumental. There was, for instance, an entire stuffed elephant. As it happened, someone had draped a blouson over one of the tusks, doubtless demonstrating its versatility as a piece of furniture, although where to put one’s umbrella was not entirely clear. Elsewhere, giraffes of the sort that one sees in the nightclub at 5 Hertford Street were, if not two a penny, certainly pretty well represented. And, of course, there were plenty of prowling big cats.

But the real speciality that the taxidermists were offering was the complete mise en scène with fake rocks, replica grass and all. For a certain type of American, a trophy room is de rigueur, or at least that would appear to be the case from the number of taxidermists exhibiting here with imaginative displays of coyotes, mountain lions and so forth scrambling around the sort of rockeries so beloved of Edwardian gardeners.

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This is not some static demonstration of dead animals, but a chance to marvel at them as they were in their prime, frozen forever (or at least until the moths get into the fur). There was one dramatic recreation of a Cape buffalo being attacked by a pair of lions that particularly caught my attention.

However, the most standout piece was a truly remarkable diorama depicting a bear defending a walrus carcass from a pack of wolves, while an eagle perched on a branch nearby. There might have been some Alaskan shrews hiding in the driftwood, but I did not see them.

It looked as though the bear would emerge victorious, unless the walrus was cunningly playing dead. I saluted the artist who had wrought such a scene, as I am sure happens every day on the Alaskan seashore, or along whatever littoral where bears, eagles, wolves and walruses congregate. Personally, I would have liked to see a couple of penguins, perhaps a salmon or two and maybe an elk fighting a whale… Just a thought.

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