Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting
Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting
THE WORKER AND THE WORK TO BE DONE.
The need of thoroughly skilled collectors is increasing every hour; and right here let me say to the young naturalist athirst for travel and adventure, There is no other way in which you can so easily find a way to gratify your heart's desire as by becoming a skilful collector.
The most important vertebrate forms are being rapidly swept off the face of the earth by firearms, traps, and other engines of destruction. In five years' time-perhaps in three-there will not be a wild buffalo left in this country outside of protected limits. There are less than one hundred even now-and yet how very few of our museums have good specimens of this most interesting and conspicuous native species.
The rhytina, the Californian elephant seal, the great auk, and the Labrador duck have already been exterminated. For many years the West Indian seal was regarded as wholly extinct, but a small colony has lately been discovered by Mr. Henry L. Ward on a remote islet in the Gulf of Mexico. The walrus, the manatee, the moose, mountain goat, antelope, mountain sheep, the sea otter, the beaver, elk, and mule deer are all going fast, and by the time the museum-builders of the world awake to the necessity of securing good specimens of all these it may be too late to find them.
Even in South Africa, where big game once existed in countless thousands, nothing remains of the larger species save a few insignificant springboks, and no game worth mentioning can be found nearer than the Limpopo Valley, eight hundred miles north of the Cape!
Now is the time to collect. A little later it will cost a great deal more, and the collector will get a great deal less. Sportsmen, pot-hunters, and breech-loading firearms are increasing in all parts of the world much faster than the game to be shot, and it is my firm belief that the time will come when the majority of the vertebrate species now inhabiting the earth in a wild state will be either totally exterminated, or exist only under protection.
But do not launch out as a collector until you know how to collect. The observance of this principle would have saved the useless slaughter of tens of thousands of living creatures, and prevented the accumulation of tons upon tons of useless rubbish in the zoological museums of the world. It costs just as much to collect and care for scientific rubbish as it would to do the same by an equal number of scientific treasures. Between fool collectors on one hand, and inartistic taxidermists on the other, the great majority of the world's zoological museums have been filled with objects that are anything but attractive; and for this state of affairs the collectors are more to blame than the taxidermists.
Bad work in collecting is, in nine cases out of ten, due to one of two causes-ignorance or laziness. By some curious process of reasoning, many really intelligent men conclude that they can go into the field and collect successfully without having learned a single thing about methods, or asked a word of advice from a competent instructor. Many seem to think that the only thing required is main strength, and that even that may be exerted by proxy. Even now, men who have travelled and written books go to South America and dry all their skins in the sun-after having carefully removed all the leg bones-and their small skeletons they boil !
Some of the worst mammal skins I ever saw were made by a professor of natural history, who actually managed to do nearly everything as it should not have been done. And yet, collecting all kinds of animal specimens, in all climates, is perfectly simple to any one who has enough enterprise to inform himself of the most reliable methods, and put them in practice.
I will confess I