Thursday, August 13, 2009

Taxidermic Treats at Tring

This week we made one of our regular visits to a favourite museum: the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum in Tring. I've been going there since childhood and have taken my own children there many times, yet it never ceases to delight and intrigue me. There's always something new to discover.

Even the finest zoo or most brilliantly filmed wildlife documentary cannot rival the museum for giving you an insight into the scale and physical attributes of the animals on display. The reason? They are all stuffed so you can get pretty close and they're extremely unlikely to move away or attack you!

An Emperor Penguin is much taller than I ever expected, some skates are the width of a box room and you can't help but marvel at the huge size of a gorilla and the incommensurately small size of its gentleman's member!

Today many of us find the idea of shooting and stuffing animals in this way repugnant but if you accept that the exhibits at Tring are of their day, then there's a lot to be gained from a visit. Sir Walter was a fabulously wealthy man, able to buy any animal that caught his fancy and so the collection is both quirky and comprehensive. Some of the stuffing is a little odd, with amused looking polar bears and some rather moth-eaten examples, but it's hard to resist the old fashioned display cases and the general air of being transported back to a bygone age, when being an amateur enthusiast did not imply criticism but imagination and not a little intellectual rigour.

I say hoorah for Tring and Lord Rothschild. Where else are you going to see a flea dressed in a crinoline, a picture of someone harnessing zebras, the most famous racing greyhound of all time and the skeleton of a boa constrictor all in one place?

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