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The current global uproar over the brutal slaughter of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe brought back vivid memories of my visit to a Namibia taxidermist several years ago. Cecil's killing is far from an isolated case...
The last thing one expects to see while driving along a road connecting Namibia's capital Windhoek and its airport is a lifesize, pink-and-purple elefant alongside the road. Is it art? Advertising? A little further along is another imposing sign, this time with the words “Taxidermy Souvenirs” pointing up a small side road. On top of the sign are more brightly painted lifesize animals – a green buzzard, a red-spotted cheetah, a blue and yellow antelope. I wonder even if they are real animals, painted garishly. More signs: a Kudu gazelle in bright turquoise with coral-colored legs and then a sign “Taxidermy” topped by the yellow painted skull of an elephant.
An Elephant Cut off at the Shoulder
The German word Trophäendienste – “trophy services” (Namibia was a German colony, and that language is still common) - is what finally gets me to turn onto the driveway leading up to ample-sized, purpose-built halls. My little white rental car looks lost on the large parking lot. The hot sun pounds down as I gingerly step inside one of the large open halls – and I almost let out a scream. There is no one else around, I could have screamed all I like. In front of me is a huge hall, full of wild animals – real animals – all taxidermically treated to look 100% alive. I remember having seen occasional dusty ducks and foxes, maybe an owl, in some nature museum, but never this – a veritable zoo of beautiful animals, shot by hunters who most likely paid large sums to do so and even larger sums to have them treated taxidermically for posterity. Many of the animals had yellow tags with the name of the hunter and the number of the order stuck on them.
Cheetahs in lifelike poses, giraffes, all kind of antelopes, warthogs, an elephant cut off at the shoulder. mounted onto the wall, to look as if he were valiantly striding. There is no doubt that all this work is of the highest quality – there are no odors of any kind. The glass eyes of the animals have been carefully chosen to make them look warm and compassionate. Alas, they are nothing, poor creatures, but victims of some hunter’s ego. By now I was standing there with tears streaming down my face, shaken to the core.
Bred to Be Hunted
After a little while, I go my composure back and went into the next hall, where there was a small café and the usual souvenirs to be had. Sipping a cool lemonade, I found out that the owner couple had come from the former East Germany and had built up this very successful business for the many hunters from all over the world who visit Namibia and other countries in Africa in order to hunt big game. The owner confirmed my suspicions: the hunters pay sizable sums to hunt on very large private estates and farms, where these animals are actually bred to be then hunted. Once the animal has been killed, many of the hunters want the animals preserved forever. And that’s where this entrepreneurial couple comes in. More examples of their “art” can be seen on their website.
I left the premises with a very heavy heart …