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My book The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing!

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Theatrical Taxidermy

Created in 1814, William Bullock’s “The Royal Tiger” presented a tiger and a boa constrictor locked in mortal combat. The two creatures both occupy a special place in the human imagination as alpha predators and man-eaters, and Bullock's deadly drama was clearly designed to provoke awe and horror in its viewers. The accompanying description only intensified the scene's emotional intensity: the tiger, “this powerful and sanguinary destroyer of the human species” is nearly exhausted, “and its bones crushed and broken by the strength and weight of its tremendous adversary.

A similarly dramatic tableau entitled “Arab Courier Attacked by Lions” was created by the French taxidermist Jules Verreaux and won the gold medal for taxidermy at the Paris Exposition of 1867. The scene depicted two Barbary lions, now an extinct species, mauling a camel and a human figure. The combats rarely involved animals native to Europe, which contained few such sensational predators. By dramatising exotic creatures, theatrical taxidermy endowed nature in distant lands with an almost mythical ferocity.