Author’s disclaimer: I neither asked, nor was given permission to write about the Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum, but it is open to the public, and no one told me I couldn’t, so… Think of this as an illustrated, in-depth Yelp or TripAdvisor review.
Author’s other disclaimer: Even though I may jibe and jab, I have absolutely no reason to think or suspect that the museum obtained their specimens in anything other than a completely legal, ethical, above-board manner (except possibly the butterflies, but we’ll get there). The place is still weird as hell.

So, as the summer months creep forward and the Western states see record heat-waves; you might find yourself wondering how you can kill a Saturday in a wholesome way while remaining indoors (in other words, the traditional indoor sports of adultry, blackmail, and murder are out)(I stole that line from a tasteless comedy I saw in my misspent middle school days, forgive me for not remembering the title). There’s a reason why movie theaters see their best business in the summer months, after all, and why summer dinner/cocktail parties are a thing. Of course, both of those activities might bring you into contact with boring people (Gods forbid). And a movie ticket is $10, and you can only see The Avengers so many times before wondering what the MCU will do without Captain America and Iron Man.

Which means you’re going to have to get creative, and follow the call of the weird. Do a little research and exploration. Maybe go out of your comfort zone and a little further afield than you might ordinarily go. In Cash Peter’s Gullible’s Travels, he writes that, when you come across these weird, seldom-discussed tourist attractions, they’re usually so earnest and well-intentioned that one almost can’t make fun of them. Astute readers will note the strategic use of the word “almost” in that sentence.

Which is how I found myself in the Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum, earlier today. Even if you have an aggressively abnormal background (as I do), three of those words should not go together, unless the words “Florida man” are also in the same sentence. So; a bit about my background with stuffed warthogs; I grew up in natural history museums, and come from a community filled with hunters and fishermen, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for someone to have some prize stag’s head or a mallard on the wall. I really don’t have anything against hunting, as the way that the vast majority of hunters do it. I’m even perfectly fine with occasional, weird, prized specimen in a private home (biology is, after all, my first, great love). This, in no way, however, prepared me for trophy hunting, which was probably best depicted in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Predator.

Please; it’s summer. With me, con gusto; I use antlers in all of my decorating!

The Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum (I may or may not call it that again in this piece, it’s a lot, and the word “life” really isn’t applicable to this museum) bills itself as being dedicated to conservation, education, and ethical hunting practices (we can discuss the inherent unfairness of a sport in which one species has firearms, thumbs, and advanced mathematics, and the other species hasn’t even received a warning notice), which, again, I understand and agree with, in theory (yes, I’m well aware that trophy hunting can provide economic incentives to sustain wild animals and manage “problem animals,” but that overlooks the more innate problem that human beings inevitably fuck up every single ecosystem we come into contact with, and, thanks to global warming, we’re able to indirectly destroy ecosystems we’ll never actually see). It’s quite another thing to see Bambi, stuffed and mounted. Don’t believe me?

The museum says that they get a variety of specimens from zoos, private collectors, roadkill, Donald Trump Jr’s walk-in refrigerator, etc. and I have no reason to doubt that, but, seriously, Flower, too?

Yes, this whole thing kind of plays out like someone took acid, did a Disney movie marathon, watched Silence of the Lambs, then had a weird ambition to make the resulting nightmares a reality. And I get that there is an educational aspect, but, honestly, I didn’t learn anything more than I would have going to a real natural history museum or zoo, other than that it costs the equivalent of 150 grand to hunt rare (now even more rare) mountain goats in Mongolia. If the wealthy are worried that they come off as selfish, greedy, or bad for society, let me remind them that, instead of giving 150,000 US dollars (okay, so it was technically $74,000 in 1989, I’m guessing the conversion to 2019 money based on the fact that one dollar in 1985 had the same buying power as two dollars in 2015) to a hospital, orphanage, or school, they flew around the world to shoot a rare animal. And, yes, I get that money can help save ecosystems and incentivise animal conservation, but, you know what else would do that? Just giving the money to an established conservation program, or park, or donate it to some sort of anti-poaching initiative. None of my hunter friends got weirdly defensive whenever discussing elk or boar hunting and over-rationalized.

And I would be a little kinder and nicer about it, except the museum is astutely political. I know this because they don’t have the rhinoceros or elephants on display. How do I know these are specimens are in the collection? They’re in the museum’s own educational video on ethical hunting, and I counted three leopards still on display, as well as a cape buffalo, and multiple lions. You don’t stop at three of the Big Five Game. Also, when you’re gunning down the cast of Lion King, I don’t imagine you’d stop at Simba…

Okay, yes, I’m aware that this is probably more likely Nala, but I didn’t have any good photos of the five other lions on display, at least two of whom were definitely male.

…Pumbaa…

Look carefully in the background.

…Timon…

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would bother to stuff a meerkat. It just seems a little morbid, and if I think that, normal people have to be put off.

…Zazu…

Upper center

…Rafiki…

Just in case you were looking forward to a photo-realistic CGI re-make of Lion King, let me remind you that wild animals are terrifying in reality.

…and let the rest of the cast off. Plus, they have an American Alligator on display, and, I know from living in Miami; you’d have a harder time moving a couch into a three-story walk-up than killing an alligator (I know this for a fact, because I had to leave the couch from my first apartment behind when I moved to a better, three-story building, whereas I had to swerve to avoid alligators on the road whenever I was near the Everglades).

I am now absolutely certain that mermaids, the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, and unicorns do not exist. Why am I so certain? Because they haven’t been mowed down and put on display. Again, I went to this museum with the ulterior motive that it would be so weird and entertaining that this thing would write itself (and it really did — if you want to learn how to write, my best advice is to put yourself in situations where all you have to do is act as a human Tivo), and it did not disappoint. What I didn’t expect were the really weird, almost-fetishized dead animal vibes from literally every single corner.

Why buy the coat when you can have the whole animal?

And though the museum sells itself as a hybrid trophy lodge-natural history museum (there’s a niche market), some of the display choices are just upsetting…

The most dangerous game

…or confusing…

On the other hand, we have established the only appropriate use for Captain and Tennille’s “Muskrat Love.”

…Or just unfortunate reminders as to why we’re inheriting just a tiny fraction of the biological diversity our ancestors enjoyed.

You don’t get natural history cred if you don’t know they’re called “MOURNING doves.” If a basic birder can spot a spelling error, you haven’t done enough research.

Again, I grew up with hunters and outdoorsy types. I get the appeal of getting away from the wife and kids for a weekend or two and maybe coming back with an impressive buck and enough meat to keep the neighborhood in venison steaks throughout the winter, and maybe keeping a souvenir. But this museum doesn’t feel like that. It feels like your cat leaving a dead mouse on your pillow (there were probably dead mice in the museum, I didn’t really look). Again, I’m into dead warthogs (not in a sexual sense, just that I feel very comfortable in natural history museums), but this had a really weird, fetishistic vibe to it all. And the one cool, not-macabre exhibit, the insect collection…

is overshadowed by the unfortunate fact that, according to journalist Jessica Speart, the illegal butterfly industry generates $200 million a year. Again, I have no reason to suspect anything in here is/was illegally obtained, but, in conjunction with the rather dramatic admissions of quasi-legality elsewhere (in one of the audio segments recounting a hunt, one of the museum’s founders casually mentions local authorities confiscating all his ammunition, leaving him “a few rounds I had put aside just in case,” which I think could be “construed as an admission of ‘smuggling”), makes me wonder.

The rather sad take-away from all of this is, I went into the museum, if not exactly pro-hunter, then at least empathetic to the idea that hunting wild animals isn’t necessarily evil, and is a somewhat enjoyable activity people I know occasionally indulge in. Now, if someone tells me they’ve been on a hunting safari, I’ll know that there’s something oddly appealing to them about killing and displaying those creatures. And I won’t get into a car alone with them without calling someone, first.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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