Friday, May 6, 2011

Lifeless lions

It is the goal of taxidermists to recreate a stunningly lifelike animal that will withstand close scrutiny and stand the test of time. Sometimes their attempts fall short - sometimes very short. This collection of strange and shabby lions (of both the mountain and African variety) has been culled from the web. I was inspired in my search by this post about the lion of Gripsholms castle (5th image). The fearsome living beast was given as a gift to King Frederick I of Sweden (1676-1751) and lived out his days in captivity. Some years after the lion's death, its pelt was given to a taxidermist to mount for display. In his defense, he had never seen a living lion before! I would venture to say that none of the other artisans have the same excuse. Many of them remain anonymous because the photos are unidentified (click on the images for my sources). The mountain lion with the poorly placed eyes (4th image) was on display in a store in South Dakota. The African lion with the long face (9th image) was among the assets of a Utah man accused of fraud. But we have no idea who prepared or owned the lion with the unnatural ears (3rd image). The caricature with close-up (7th and 8th images) links to Crappy Taxidermy, which notes only that the mount was offered on E-bay. Of the lions that do have a backstory, we have Wallace (2nd image), compliments of Ravishing Beasts, who stands in the Saffron Walden Museum in Essex. Wallace, the 1st African lion to be bred in the U.K. (he was born in Edinburgh in 1812), was a star in George Wombwell’s 19th c. traveling menagerie. He is remembered for 2 incidents: killing all 6 dogs with which he was baited before a crowd in 1825 and, 2 years later, biting a man who later died of the wounds. "After Wallace’s death in 1838, he was sent to the Saffron Walden Museum by stagecoach. A framework for his body was made of wooden struts and wires, over which his skin was stretched and stuffed with wood shavings. He was mounted with his left front paw theatrically posed on the figure of a dog, in remembrance of his triumph in the fighting pit." Next up, the original Nittany Lion (1st image, caution - language), of the University of Pennsylvania. in a display case at the library: "The real-deal mascot, he’s carved out of stone. Looks all heroic and shit, not a sad sack like me. Hell, that thing got so popular they completely forgot I existed. I spent half the last century on loan to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, stuck in a basement storeroom with the moths and the spiders. The only complete specimen of an Eastern Cougar, out of the hundreds of thousands that were killed for bounty, and I didn’t get any respect whatsoever." Lastly, we have a specimen from an obscure zoological museum at Babes-Bolyai University in Romania (6th image) visited by Curious Expeditions: "The taxidermy displays were amazing. The dioramas and taxidermy clearly have not been updated for the modern age, much to our delight. There were tatty old lions, tigers and bears (oh my) strewn about, not in any case or diorama, but simply facing the museum visitor, inviting a closer look." For the eyeful collected here, you're welcome.


  1. Very interesting! Thank you!

  2. Fascinating post. I recently went to the local museum in Banff, Alberta, Canada, where there were several taxidermied mountain animals on display. The most successful among these was a black wolf, which even stuffed, gave me chills. I think the more majestic the animal, the more difficult it is to capture some of its grandeur in this post-humous form.


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