I love cats, but I’m not a crazy cat lady- yet. I have two, which I hand-reared from two weeks old, and ever since the first moment when I held them in the palm of my hand and felt their tiny needle-like claws pricking my skin as they clung to me whilst suckling from the bottle, I have run the gamut of emotions like any parent who loves their child. But I am well aware that they are still cats. I often come across comments on websites where owners mention their pet(s) by name, as if that is relevant to the article about the costs of transporting pets abroad. Who even cares that they are called Cosmic Creepers or Bruiser? (They’re not, by the way). Thankfully, my wonderful boyfriend will still be here to look after them but I will miss them. So, a friend suggested that I whilst I’m away I could always keep myself company with a pet cheetah. At first I thought he was pulling my leg, but no. It seems that for the super-rich, or stupid, big cats are the accessory for the aspiring Emirati millionaire. Now, working in museums, even in the Emirates, I might be about to rub shoulders with the Royal family and some millionaires, but I doubt I’ll have a spare £6000 to purchase one in the first place and quite frankly, even if I did, I’m not sure flats and cheetahs really go together. Think of the size of the litter tray!
It turns out that an hour’s drive from Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) there is a Natural History Museum in the emirate of Sharjah. I visited over 50 museums whilst undertaking research for the Milton Keynes Museum Expansion Project and despite millions of pounds being spent on sexy new galleries that ticked all the worthy boxes, they were empty in favour of those filled with stuffed animals. Now, I must confess to loving a nice bit of taxidermy. I really don’t know why. I love animals, abhor hunting, but find it rather pleasing to be able to look at the fur and feathers close up. They really are an art-form in themselves. I had always assumed that, a bit like with mummification, they were preserved, their organs scooped out and replaced with sawdust, add a couple of googly eyes and voila! Not so. There is a bit more to it than that.
Taxidermy became popular in the early 19th century and the Victorians loved to anthropomorphise their stuffed animals. The taxidermist Walter Potter’s creations have to be seen to be believed (kitten croquet and a squirrel tea party are just a couple of gems) and I wonder if that’s where the idea of Sylvanian Families came from? But there is something rather beautiful about the way he has captured the animals, albeit dressed like humans and not quite resembling the animals that they once were. It’s absurd and yet compelling. Just like the Victorian penchant for wearing a stuffed animal on their head and passing it off as a hat. My, what ever is that you are wearing, Constance? Winifred, it is my new squirrel fascinator. Is it not just marvellous!
A lot of skill is required to create a stuffed, sorry, mounted animal if it is not to resemble Milton Keynes Museum’s Angry Badger, whose face has been contorted in such a way that it looks so far removed from an actual badger as to be almost another species. Some people do this on purpose, but mostly it’s just the work of a rubbish taxidermist. Anyway, so while I have to explore the ways to increase visitors to the RAK National Museum, introducing some taxidermy seems like the obvious way forward. I could begin it by stuffing the cheetah shot for mauling its owner in the car park of the Dubai Mall. Well, it’s bound to happen sooner or later, isn’t it? I’m sure there are plenty of DIY taxidermy videos on youtube. In the meantime, this is as close to a cheetah as I’m going to get.