The last thing I expected to see while driving along the road connecting Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, and the international airport was a life size pink and purple elephant alongside the road. Is it art? Advertising? A little further along is an extra large sign, this time with the words “Taxidermy Souvenirs” pointing up a small side road. On top of the sign are more brightly painted life size animals – a green buzzard, a red-spotted cheetah, a blue and yellow antelope. I wonder even if maybe they are real animals, garishly painted. 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.
The German word “Trophäendienste” – “trophy services” – is what finally convinces 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 life-like 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 smells 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 big-game hunter’s ego. By now I was standing there with tears streaming down my face, shaken to the core.
After a little while, I got 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 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 to their heart’s (and pocket book!) content. The owner confirmed my suspicions: the hunters pay sizeable 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 hunters want the prey preserved forever. And that’s where this entrepreneurial couple with their unique know-how comes in. More examples of their “art” can be seen on their website.
I left the premises with a very, very heavy heart …
This all took place at the end of my trip around the world, a couple of years back. The current global uproar over the brutal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, brought back these memories of my visit to the Namibian taxidermist so vividly, that I looked up my notes and my photos and felt compelled to write this post at last. Unfortunately, the killing of Cecil is not an isolated case, nor is the glorification of the trophies, as my visit to “Trophy Services” had sadly attested.