British Historical Taxidermy - Ramblings



Taxidermy, Animal Rights and Conservation
Section still to be drafted.

This is potentially an enormous topic. I have no idea what this section might contain, but I suspect it will attempt to address questions like the following. Have other species got rights? Are those rights equal to those of our own species? Can other species suffer or feel anxiety? Has a mammal got more rights than a mackerel? Has a mackerel more rights than a millipede? What about a maggot? Indeed, has a beautiful bright-eyed, intelligent furry mammal got less rights just because it is so clever and adaptive and has the Latin name Rattus norvegicus?

What is it we might be concerned about in terms of animal rights?  For example, the suffering of an individual animal? Or the right to life of an individual animal? Or is it the conservation of a species that is of concern? Does modern taxidermy threaten extinction? Did taxidermy ever threaten extinction to any species in the past? If an animal is killed by natural causes or accident, is it then morally acceptable to preserve it as a decorative object? Presumably we wouldn’t do it with granny (and not just because the finished result might be less than decorative), so there is obviously some distinction being drawn. What is this distinction?

I doubt there are any ready answers and I probably will end up sitting on the fence (maybe propelled there by self-interest as an ardent collector of dead animals). I have yet to do the detailed research, but on a quick look I suspect that the UK’s 7 million domestic cats and 29 million motor vehicles cause more pain, suffering and death to the UK’s wildlife in a year than has ever been caused throughout history in the name of taxidermy. The United Kingdom's fish and meat eaters have around 2.5 billion animals killed for their palates every year (one can fairly safely speculate about the suffering of those creatures from birth to abattoir, or during asphyxiation in the net of a trawler).

Whilst our species evolved to eat meat and find it highly enjoyable, we do not need to eat meat. We do it purely for pleasure. Is the gourmet's pleasure of a higher moral standing than the collector of decorative dead things? Should both be equally condemned? Does history protect us if we only collect historical taxidermy? I suppose this will depend on what rights we assign to animals. If we accept that British Museums (including the Booth at Brighton) were right to (very recently) return historically collected Aboriginal remains, then the age of the material can only shield us if we are giving non-human animals very different rights to those assigned to ourselves.

Of course, none of the above examples nor statistics necessarily excuse the deliberate killing or harm of a living creature for other reasons. Nor does it mean the use of accidentally killed animals for entertainment and decoration is morally neutral. What these cursory considerations and figures do point up though is that the issues are not straightforward and some thought and balance will be required.

I genuinely don’t know what I really think on this topic so will be interested to see what I write!