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Help The (Stuffed) Hyenas At The Field Museum

By Jim Bochnowski in News on May 8, 2015 4:40PM

Picture via the Field Musuem

Apparently there is such a thing as the "Michelangelo of taxidermy" and his work has been sitting in a corner of the Field Museum for years. Now, museum employees are trying to better show his work to the world.

Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered profiled the efforts of Emily Graslie, the Field Museum's "Chief Curiosity Correspondent," who has been campaigning to bring a hyena diorama to greater prominence in the museum. But it isn't just any diorama! This particular display was originally created by Carl Akeley, one of the greatest taxidermists in history.

According to the Chicago Reader, in 1896, Akeley went on an expedition to Africa to collect information on animals for the Field Museum, with a special focus on creatures at risk of extinction due to infectious diseases brought to the continent by Italian soldiers' horses. While there, he shot and killed (not great for the future of the species, but it was a different time, I suppose) four hyenas, which he brought back to Chicago.

The hyenas were stuffed and mounted, then tucked in an obscure corner of the reptile exhibit of the Field Museum. They were beautifully preserved by a master taxidermist, but they sit in an unfortunately sparse scene, with the four hunched over a bare skeleton with no other decorations. That is why Graslie has launched an IndieGogo campaign to bring these hyenas to the forefront and create an actual life-like scene around them. The funding campaign is asking for $170,000 to create a better exhibit for this work of art, and has already raised $101,000 with two weeks to go. If all goes well, the museum hopes that the exhibit will be complete by next January.

As Graslie says, "That's maybe the equivalent of having some unframed piece of work from da Vinci, you know, just kind of sitting in a corner for nobody to see." And with only 10,000 striped hyenas left in the wild, this may be one of the only opportunities most of us will have to see them in person.