Sunday, December 21, 2014

Harber Wildlife Museum: Sherman, TX

On a recent business trip, I walked into a bank in Sherman, Texas and was not prepared for what I was about to be confronted by.

An Elk head.  And he isn't hung very high, I am 5'10" and you can see how close he is to me.  And he isn't alone.
There are other Elk and some other animal head and a whole animal too.  As I run the gauntlet of dead animals, I make my way to the lobby of the bank, stupidly unprepared for what awaits there.
A lion guarding the Christmas Tree.  There are several other full size taxidermy animals in the lobby.
That cheetah over on the far wall seems pretty chill about this situation.  I on the other hand am a little freaked out.
The male half of the owners of this collection is the President (or CEO? whatever) of this bank.  His and his wife's sizable gun collection are in a case in the lobby.  I suppose that nothing says "I will keep your money safe" like my large collection of guns and the creatures I have taken down with them watching you as you transact your business.
I really want to ask if this branch has ever been robbed but I hear David's disapproving voice in my head.  This might be like asking a TSA agent at the airport if they have ever seen a bomb when they are checking out your boarding pass.  Once, when I was sitting next to the door on the over-wing exit row, I asked David (a licensed airplane mechanic) what would happen if I tried to open the door.  He looked at me with a mixture of horror and annoyance.  I think he was regretting his decision to take the aisle seat at that moment.  We were cruising along at like 37,000 feet so maybe that was part of his concern.  Maybe the fact that I had recently asked what he thought this bored policeman who was directing traffic would do if I tried to grab his gun when we walked by made some difference in his reaction.  But really, I am just curious.  But maybe I should keep my curiosity to myself so instead I mention to an employee that I have never seen anything quite like this and they proceed to tell me about the museum down the street that contains the animals that wouldn't fit in these peoples homes (plural) or the bank. 
Harber Wildlife Museum is indeed not far down the street.  It was voted the "Best Museum in Texoma" in 2012, 2013 & 2014.  For those of you that don't know, Texoma refers to a general region where Texas and Oklahoma touch. Sherman is about an hour from the border.  None of the Texoma region contains any really big cities so I am not thinking the competition was very stiff.  They are only open for 2 hours on Friday, the day I am here and on weekends.  Admission is a "$5 donation" for anyone over 12 but I assume you can't just walk around if you decide you don't want to donate.
They are not overrun with visitors according to the log.  Several people from Oklahoma visited on the 22nd of November, AFTER a couple of Texans on the 29th.  I can hear David now saying something about Oklahomans not being able to tell time or something like that.  One of David's many jokes:  Why doesn't Texas fall into the Gulf of Mexico?  Because Oklahoma sucks. 
I am there right at 3 pm when they open and there is one other car in the parking lot I am going to assume belongs to the employee.  When he opens the door for me a few minutes after 3, he seems a little surprised to see me.  "Got anything for me?" he says.  I tell him I have $5 I will give him.  He backs up so I can enter and says, "Okay, but let me turn on the sounds first."
As you walk through the museum there are animal sounds coming out of the speakers in the ceiling.  The lady at the bank told me this is an old Furr's Cafeteria.  There are multiple rooms to the museum.
The largest, and the one you enter first, is Africa.
It is hard not to begin by looking at the giraffe with his tongue out.
There are signs asking you not to touch the animals (or the "snow" - their quotes, not mine) but you can walk right up to them (lots of signs that you are being recorded and watched are all around the museum).  This is probably the closest I will ever get to the ass end of a giraffe.  At least I hope that is the case.
The room is square and there is an aisle all the way around with displays in the middle and along the walls.  A large variety of animals are in posed in groups.
This lion is being attacked.
This one is attacking.  All of them are posed in what I assume is supposed to be a realistic looking diorama but I find it a little sad and cheesy personally.  Someone at the bank said the local college painted all of the backgrounds.
The realism loses something from that drop ceiling and poorly done fake foliage.
The signs along the railing give information about the animal.  A lady at the bank said that the couple donate all of the meat from the animals they kill to local tribes.
This is Guenther's Dik-Dik.  He is smaller than my dog.  Not a lot of meat there.  Some of the animals here make me question that whole statement.
Now, since I am an American who has never been outside the country, I don't claim to know much about the food habits of other people of the world but do people really eat baboon?  And the "Fun Fact" for this rare white lion was that the local tribes consider them sacred.  Do they eat sacred animals?
Okay hunters, get ready because here it comes.  I have a problem with this.  I am actually a little annoyed with myself for what in my mind is donating $5 for these people to continue doing this.  I am sure my $5 is of little significance to these people who obviously have a lot of money to burn but still.  I think that when hunters say they donate the meat to the local tribe in some effort to minimize the criticism they receive it is just a justification for them to do what they would do anyway.  I am not a hunter and would never be one unless there was a catastrophic event such as nuclear winter that required me to hunt to survive.  When I lived in Texas I didn't think much about animals, wild or otherwise.  I had two dogs.  I saw squirrels in my yard.  Once a dead possum.  Some hawks had loud sex in the tree outside my office window.  I saw dead armadillos on the road and raced one at a company event.  I could go to the zoo to see something more exotic.  But after moving to Montana, I see wild animals I never dreamed I would see in person right outside my door.  Owls.  Eagles.  Deer frequently pass through our yard.  I have seen Elk herds.  The time I saw a moose, I yelled so loud and scared David so bad I think he thought he might have a heart attack.  Normally I am rendered incapable of coherent speech when I see something.  I have gotten better and I don't freak out or lose the capacity for speech as much now but I am still in total awe of the wildlife here.  And I never want to see it mounted on my wall, or anyone else's for that matter.  I want to see them where they the wild.
And before you get all judgy and start sending me ugly comments, I realize I can't change anyone's opinion so you should be prepared to find me unwilling to change or be moved by those comments.  Since moving here - to the wild west filled with more cammo and guns and ammo than I have ever been exposed to - I have mostly given up eating meat.  Yes, I occasionally still do and I eat fish occasionally and egg here and there and yes, I know that makes me something of a hypocrite.  It is a process.  You don't realize how meatcentric our society is until you try to stop eating it.  I had to order off the kids menu twice in the same day once because nothing on the adult menu was vegetarian or could be made that way by omitting something.
And lets clear something up.  I am not against all hunting.  I am against hunting as a sport.  I am against killing a living creature to put its dead body on display.
Enough of that now, back to the museum.  I almost called it The Chamber of Horrors here but really, why beat a dead horse? 
Some of the animals are not whole.  This elephant head is coming out of a stone chimney.  There was also a rhino head in a another room and a full zebra skin tacked to the wall next to the theatre.  And I don't know anything about taxidermy but some of the animals seem off to me.
Does he look bored?  Uncomfortable with the position of his neck?  Resigned to his position and fate?  Unhappy to be dead?  I'm not sure.
And mini-bambi there seems very unconcerned that he is so near to two predators.  I do find it interesting that a few of the informational signs list "humans" in the Predators/Threats section but many do not even though these animals were clearly killed by humans.  Some list "loss of habitat" as a threat - I think that might be code for "humans".
I got close up to this lion face and am a little concerned there might be a little "Night at the Museum" action going on because he seems to have eaten something recently and is in need of a napkin.  Time to check out another room.
On the way I see the couple responsible for this museum posing with elephant tusks and their bows, which are also on display.  Of course, she is wearing an animal print blouse.
There is also an entire hall dedicated to their annual Christmas Card photo which the note says was "loved" so much by their friends and family after that first one that they kept the tradition.  Each framed and enlarged copy shows them and lists the location, some in the US, several in Africa, a few in other places.  Thankfully they are usually just posing in a campsite and not holding up the head of the animal they just killed like the photos on display at our local Cabela's when you enter the building.
There is a section devoted to animals I am familiar with from my current home.  The moose I saw in person was a female (with her calf).  I haven't yet seen a bull moose in person but I really want to.  This doesn't count.
This bear seems to want to tell me something.  Probably "get out while you can".
There is a room dedicated to artifacts that I assume they collected in their travels.  Some of the pieces were interesting but they were poorly marked, unlike the animals.  If they had 15 Dik-Diks, there was a sign every single time.
There is also a theatre (playing Planet Earth) and a room with desks where you can look at books about hunting and animals.  There are also a bunch of books with notes from children who have been here on school trips.  I thought this was a good drawing of the giraffe.  He seems adequately unhappy to be here.  Note that the kid left out the drop ceiling and bad plastic foliage and tried to throw the giraffe a bone by drawing him back outside in the sunshine.  Where he belongs.
I learn while I am here that the museum "is Dorothy's" according to the man at the front desk.  This is confirmed by a sign I see later that shows she has "realized a dream" and I also learn there are more animals on display at the local mall (no, I'm not going to verify that).  She also notes that "this is just the beginning".  At the end there is a very small note on wildlife conservation and what you can do to help.  Things like not poaching.  This seems a little insincere after walking through the museum and seeing their handiwork (I'm not accusing them of poaching) and in the placement of the sign at the very end along with its small size.  They also sell t-shirts and encourage you to "buy one for the whole family".  They are $15 and I do not buy one.  I have contributed all I plan to on these people and their endeavors.  Except this post.  I guess this is technically a contribution.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to take my weapon of choice and go see if there are any deer passing through my backyard that need to be dealt with.
My weapon of choice in this case was a Canon Rebel xsi.  I "shot" this buck at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT, near my home.  I love going there but these people need a dictionary.  Hunting is allowed at certain times and in certain areas.  That word, REFUGE.
As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride:  "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."

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