If animals wore clothing, we would not have to stuff them.

You know that movie that came out a few years ago about the horse that lived during the depression and everybody was happy when it won the triple crown? Well that horse, or a horse just like it (fast, famous, dead) was stuffed and on display in a racing museum I visited when I was a kid, and nearby, was the horse's jockey, also stuffed.

However, because the jockey was a person and wore clothing (and, in the case of jockeys, they were special colorful outfits that distinguished them from other jockeys) the actual jockey himself was spared the indignity and inconvenience of having his viscera and bones removed from his skin. They just got the clothing and stuffed that, and presumably, the jockey thereafter wore slacks, an oxford shirt and a cardigan of his choice.

The question has now come up: Does the Berlin Zoo stuff Knut, the famous polar bear who died an untimely death in full view of members of the public visiting the zoo? Well, actually, no one at the zoo is asking your opinion. Word on the street is that his body has already been dismantled in a manner pursuant to taxidermy and he will be on display at the Natural History Museum "because there aren't that many polar bears any longer," according to the bear's former keeper.

Now, if Knut had been in the habit of wearing a set of clothing and a hat, perhaps a vest, bow tie, and earmuffs or a watch cap (polar bears can't wear pants) that were sufficiently distinctive ... distinctive like these jockeys' "colors" ...


... then they could just display a nicely dry cleaned and pressed outfit on a bearish manikin and be done with it.

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I think Natural History is about 1,000,000,000x more interesting than horse racing, hence the need to realistically stuff animals so people can see what they look like.

Also - a revolutionary thought, I know - dumb animals are just dumb animals, not members of human society.

In any case, there's that german guy who "plastinates" real bodies of real people after death, so whether it's an indignity or not, it is also applied to humans.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 23 Mar 2011 #permalink

Can't we Photoshop in 3 dimensions yet?

By Charles Sullivan (not verified) on 23 Mar 2011 #permalink

In any case, there's that german guy who "plastinates" real bodies of real people after death, so whether it's an indignity or not, it is also applied to humans.

Well, von Hagens (the anatomist who does the plastinates) is a highly controversial figure, but mostely for the fact that tere are rumors that not all of his human subjects were donated by the realtives or did so themselves during their lifetime. It kind of reminded me of the stories from 19th century Edinburgh where they paid grave-robbers to get some corpses for the anatomy class.
And of course the very religious are also very much against him.
But his latest exhibition was about animals, it's still touring zoos all over the world, and it all started in my little home-town, because the two biggest exhibits, the elephants came from here. And there was a lot of outrage among the locals because they felt that "their" elephants were not treated with dignity and respect (I'm sure many of them found comfort with a nice steak).
So, if you be chance go to see the exhibition, say hello to the elephants from me.

People seem to be getting ever more isolated from the natural world. Many folks seem to think that food comes from grocery stores and otherwise intelligent people are surprised when someone is killed by a wild animal.

In this situation there's the possibility of some good coming from Knut's death. Many people would never have thought about polar bears at all if not for him and after death, his remains may be a useful tool to keep some sort of interest alive. It's ironic to think of the future of the planet's apex land predator hinging on a stuffed carcass but it may be the only hope there is; I have doubts about the long-term survival of zoo populations.

As to why we do stuff animals and don't generally stuff people, there's a simple explanation: People are people and animals are animals. That's harsh in some ways but true and hopefully people will grant more respect to creatures who can't argue for their own survival.

A final thought. It would be vastly helpful if people received more education in basic biology and stopped deciding which species are worthy of survival on the basis of how cute they are because a creature's place in the ecosystem isn't determined by appearance.

I saw a science friday video about taxidermy somewhat recently. I was surprised to find that most of their business comes from museums, nature centers, etc., and only a small portion was people getting game animals stuffed. I get why that's dropped in popularity, it's a little creepy to me even as a hunter to have heads on walls, but a nice fish or bird mount is a work of art IMHO. At Michigan State U. they have a stuffed polar bear, if you don't notice it right away as you walk in the building it'll scare the bejebus out of you, it really lets you understand how large and powerful they are.

By Rob Monkey (not verified) on 24 Mar 2011 #permalink

I had the great fortune of being able to take my boys to the "Bodies Revealed" exhibition, at the Grand Rapids museum. Many corpses plasticized and two were even sectioned (the boys were particularly interested in the cross-sections of teh insides.

Several airports and community centers in Northern Canada have stuffed polar bears (generally adults); most of them state who "captured" the animal and "generously donated" it to the local community. Not all of the displayed animals came from the immediate vicinity of the community or airport in question; the one in Resolute Bay's airport terminal came from Baffin Island, if I remember correctly.

There's a museum in Churchill, Manitoba ("the polar bear capital of the world") with about half its floor space devoted to polar bears and traditional methods of hunting them. They have a series of extremely young cubs, stuffed, from a few days after birth up to a few months, in a display illustrating polar bear development. There's no explanation that I saw (a couple of years ago) about where those specimens came from; they had to have been collected from a den in winter, as polar bears give birth while hibernating.

I've also seen stuffed polar bears (and other fairly rare species) in large hunting / outdoors stores in southern Canada, such as at the Bass Pro shop in Vaughn, just outside of Toronto.

I saw Body Worlds 3 when it came through Vancouver several years ago, and I thought it was fascinating and very well done. But, I'm a biologist and I don't consider myself squeemish or easily disturbed. I would like to see more stuffed or plastinated or skeletonized or otherwise-preserved humans, one of the great things about the Body Worlds exhibit, to me, was the presence of a wide variety of human body sizes. Most of the anatomical-training skeletons I've seen have been plastic versions of the skeletons of relatively small people, often women who would have stood at around 5 feet tall in life. I'm 6'2", and my hands are at least twice the size of the usual plastic hand models / hand skeleton models I've seen, which makes it much more difficult for me to experience that wonderful feeling when one realizes one contains something very much like what one is examining. Several of the plastinated humans in Body Worlds 3 were of similar dimensions to myself.

By TheBrummell (not verified) on 25 Mar 2011 #permalink

I'm pretty sure there is a close correlation between living bear communities in the US and stuffed bears, with some stuffed bears outside of their natural range. I can think of one polar bear in Saint Paul, but up north there are black bears everywhere, both unstuffed and stuffed.

The Musuem of Science & Industry has had exhibits featuring the insides of real people. It shows muscles, blood vessels, & organs. One of the people is a pregnant woman. They also have a month by month exhibit of real human zygote/embryo/fetuses.
They're not stuffed, but it's similar. I don't really think it's a big deal.

There's a stuffed polar bear at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane.

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 27 Mar 2011 #permalink