Big Game on Display
Sunday, August 29, 2010
By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Dr. Thomas Marshall Hahn Jr. went to great lengths to hunt his African mammal collection, but area residents can skip the safari (and the malaria) by heading to the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
The Hahn Hall of Biodiversity features the African mammal collections of Dr. Hahn, president emeritus of Virginia Tech. During the opening reception Friday, more than 150 members came out to see the exhibit before it opened to the public on Saturday.
"The exhibit is breath-taking, I will have to come back and bring my family," said Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech, who attended the event.
Hahn is a big game hunter who killed the animals that now line the walls of VMNH while on safari in Africa. Hahn said he made two trips, one to Zambia and another to South Africa in 1999 and 2000.
"Each hunt is different. They're all wonderful adventures," said Hahn, "You have the joy of seeing animals in their natural habitat and the thrill of the hunt."?
While he was hunting, Hahn said he traveled by plane, vehicles and "a lot of walking" to stalk and kill his prey. He was especially proud of his specimen of a Sitatunga, a swamp-dwelling antelope that now stands at the beginning of the Hahn Hall.
Hahn said he spent three days tracking the Sitatunga, walking for miles and sleeping on the ground in swamps.
He slept in a sleeping bag and he covered himself with mosquito netting, but he still caught malaria on the expedition, Hahn said. However, he said the illness was well worth it when he shot and killed the Sitatunga at dawn on the third day of his hunt in the swamp.
After he successfully killed any animal he planned to mount, the skull and pelt were sent back to the United States to be mounted by a taxidermist who specialized in African mammals. Now, all of the mounted animals can be used to educate and impress museum visitors, said museum Director Joe Keiper.
"We had been wanting to do something that incorporated classification and adaptation," said Nancy Moncrief, curator of mammology.
She said that Hahn's donation gave the museum a perfect opportunity to do just that. There are 75 species of antelopes in Africa, and 26 are included in this exhibit, said Ryan Barber, museum spokseman.
Those 26 species have been divided into six groups for visitors to observe, said Moncrief. The species in the same group hang together on the walls of the exhibit, and a guide showing similar types of antlers also is available.
The hall is designed so that educators can walk through with a laser light and point out similar groups and discuss the different species, Barber said. Moncrief said there also are videos of Hahn's trips on display so visitors can see how the animals moved in the wild.
Staff member Donnie Jones installed the new lighting systems, Barber said. He added that the lights are fiberoptic, which means they require less energy and they will not damage the specimens.
Jessica Davenport, publications and exhibits manager, said it took a while to figure out how best to display the animals. She said staff took measurements of every animal, and then she made computer layouts to figure out the best way to showcase the specimens.
For some animals, such as the hyena, the answer was simple. Hahn had museum-quality taxidermy work done, and many of his full-bodied pieces already were installed on wooden pedestals.
"It's phenomenal taxidermy," said Moncrief, adding that she had "never seen a full mounted hyena anywhere."?
Along with his specimens, Hahn donated $50,000 to the museum to help develop the exhibit hall, said Barber. Other than labor, it did not cost the museum anything.