One of my favorite elements of the annual Safari Club International show is being surrounded by world-class taxidermy.
This year was no different, with fantastic dioramas featuring species from around the globe. Masterfully done, the mounts in these photos include world records, provoking scenes from nature’s grim side, and even a bit of humor. Light and photography conditions at the show are all but impossible, so forgive the occasional flare, portly photo-bomb, or stack of boxes in the background. And with that enchanting introduction, curtains up!
Locked in a death-struggle, this diorama depicts a rare occurrence in the African bush: a large male lion trying to convert a mature Cape Buffalo into his dinner. Remarkably, the biggest challenge when creating this piece was perspective: the lion was so huge that it was difficult to keep him from overshadowing the buff – an animal that regularly exceeds 2,000 pounds.
Self-proclaimed pioneers of “animals in motion”, Animal Artistry specializes in taxidermy that brings life to the scene. The strategy is to mount the subject(s) in live-action poses that appear as a moment in time captured. This ensemble of a grizzly bear defending his moose kill from a hungry wolf performs that assignment admirably.
The largest full-body mount possible (excepting a whale or a dinosaur), this elephant is, in a word, awesome. The coolest part? It’s a reproduction. Kanati has mastered a process that enables them to create lifelike mounts of species like rhino and elephant without using a single body part. They match every detail of your animal, like chipped or broken tusk, horn length and mass, and so on. And they look real. Very real.
One of my very favorite dioramas at the show, this piece blends all four North American sheep species, including rock and vegetation indicative of their native habitat. Dall sheep fittingly commands the Northernmost position, mounted on blue-grey icy rock. A Stone ram bedded atop an alpine outcropping comes next, followed by the Rocky Mountain Bighorn. Desert Bighorn sheep claims the lowermost position, mounted atop burnt-yellow rock indigenous to its home range. The collaboration required a small-print, 190 lb. ½-inch solid steel plate foundation to support it, and is 11.5 feet tall, rendering it suitable for a room with a 10-foot ceiling.
Stretching the tape to a remarkable forty-seven inches, this buck is the widest ever killed in Oregon. Not only that, he’s got a great mainframe, tons of character, and good mass. The buck of many lifetimes, this mount does an outstanding job of showcasing him.
Another conglomerate of species mounted in their native habitat, my photo doesn’t do this work justice. Starting with lush low-elevation Red Deer habitat, a huge stag leaps over an equally huge shed antler. Just above, a bull Tahr commands the mid-mountain region, while a Chamois claims the icicled snowy peaks.
This grim display had me circling like a third coyote. It’s awesome in it’s own right, showing the common struggle for life in the wild. Perhaps my personal fascination was enhanced by the fact that I witnessed and filmed an almost identical drama in the wild just a month ago. Coyotes do kill deer, even mature bucks like this one.
Depicting an unhappy (for the leopard) scene wherein a lion discovers a leopard enjoying a feast of zebra bait. How’s it going to end? Quien sabe. A remarkable fact about this mount (and in fact all the Animal Artistry sets I photographed) is that it disassembles into pieces that will fit through a standard home doorway. Just carry them inside, assemble the puzzle, and Presto! You have a diorama.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world – or in this case wolf eat bison world. Another iconic American scene that my camera couldn’t quite do justice, wherein a buffalo scuffles with a pair of wolves who thought he looked tasty. He disagreed. They appear convinced to share his perspective.
From the financial perspective of most hunters these three species might as well live in an enchanted forest. They are extraordinarily beautiful, and even more extraordinarily expensive to hunt. Notwithstanding that fancy fact, we can dream, and this spectacular work is inspiring. Just the ambience surrounding the diorama was worth soaking up.
Exemplifying the “animals in motion” strategy, this entire scene depicting a mountain lion taking down a bighorn sheep turned slowly on its pedestal, giving the viewer a 360-degree look at the mount. An interesting bit of trivia: I read a study demonstrating that the kill ratio for mountain lions on pronghorn was one-in-11 attempts, mule deer one-in-six attempts, and bighorn sheep one-in-one. Odds for this sheep aren’t good.
Convincingly mounted atop rocks and vegetation true to brown bear habitat, this bear looks real. It’s hard to visualize how giant he actually is from the photo, so just take my word for it that this beautiful chocolate bear is huge. Not the fellow you want to cuddle with on a dark backcountry night.
This fantastic sheep is the world record muzzleloader California Bighorn. Killed in Oregon in 2004 by Tim Brown, the sheep measures 174 1/8 inches. Incredibly, it appears from the rings in his horns that the ram was only five and a half years old. What would he have looked like as a 9.5 year-old?
Remember when I mentioned humor earlier? This piece made me smile. It seems the mountain lion in the tree killed a nice muley buck for his lunch, only to be mugged and chased up a tree by a bunch of nasty wolves. Here again, the photo doesn’t do this magnificent diorama justice, one really must walk around it to soak up the treed lion, the bloody buck under the tree, and the exuberant attitude of the wolves.
Tim Brown must be a lucky hunter, because in addition to the magnificent sheep above he harvested this world record roan antelope in 2017. This beast measures 86 5/8 SCI, and was killed in South Africa. Tim is also Natural Instinct’s master taxidermist, and studied taxidermy in Africa as well as abroad. There he learned that due to differences in skin stretch, expression, and anatomy, mounting exotic animals can be very different than mounting American animals. Judging from appearances, he’s rather good at both.
Nope, this bear isn’t using a rod and reel, but he is certainly flying around fishing. (Okay, perhaps I misled you slightly.) This display made me catch my breath for an instant, wondering how it’s going to end and just a little glad that I’m not a fish. Then it made me want to go fishing with the bear. Well, maybe not with the bear, just where the bear is fishing. That’s what great taxidermy is all about, to draw one into the moment, to inspire wild adventure in wilder places.