Mammals are the group of warm-blooded animals to which humans belong and so contain some of our closest relatives. The egg-laying platypus and echidnas are also mammals, but with a very different evolutionary history. Mammals include the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the tallest animal alive today, the giraffe. RAMM’s iconic bull Maasai giraffe, ‘Gerald’, has been in our collections since 1919 having been donated as part of the Peel collection.
Other large and impressive mounted specimens include the giant eland, the largest of antelopes and the tiger, presented by King George V. Marine mammals have also featured in the collection since 1875 and 1876 when fin whales were cast ashore at Teignmouth and Beer. Both specimens were purchased as skeletons for the Museum, though not in their entirety. Smaller whales and dolphins have since been acquired and prepared as skeletons.
This tiger is one of 39 tigers collected by King George V in 1911 and he presented it to the Museum in 1913. The other 38 were donated to other museums around Britain.
The Peel collection
‘Gerald’ the giraffe and the African elephant are two mounted animals from the Peel collection of ‘Big Game’. Charles Peel was so confident that big game hunting was the best lifestyle for young men in the late Victorian empire that he created his own private museum of big game animal mounts from around the world. Unfortunately for some animals, being either big and or fierce, might have led to a premature death at the hands of a hunter. Some of the earliest accessioned mammals were heads of game animals. These trophy heads were popular wall mounts in interior decor. Owners might have wished to be identified with the elite of well-travelled, adventurous gentlemen (the hunters were all men) who were a good shot and possibly brave in the face of large and potentially dangerous quarry. There used to be a considerable competitive element within hunting circles, so in general, the bigger the better.
Peel’s Museum was in Oxford and a building that now houses the Oxford Playhouse. He saw it as an advert for what he considered a most rewarding way of life. He also wrote books about his hunting exploits. When he moved to north Devon he offered the collection to Oxford City, who declined, but his subsequent offer to Exeter City Council was enthusiastically accepted. The museum had to create a temporary extension at the rear of the Museum, called the Peel Hut, in which to display many of his big game mounts.
Whilst the natural history section has never had a separate purchase fund, there have been occasions when mounted mammals have been selected from the stock lists of large taxidermy companies. The animals selected have filled gaps in the Museum’s representation of the many different mammal groups to be found around the world.