WARNING! This post is about our visit to a taxidermy museum, so if you have a strong aversion to taxidermied animals, please don’t click through!
The Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife was strongly recommended to Cory and myself by a local, so we decided to check it out. We honestly had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, and it was a rollercoaster of emotions.
Tom Bolack was a prominent citizen of Farmington, and an oilman, rancher, and politician. At one point he served as Governor of New Mexico for just one month, in a shady political deal. The elected governor at the time resigned, which made Bolack (current Lieutenant Gov.) the interim governor. That original governor? He had just lost his reelection and rather than finishing out his term, resigned to have Bolack appoint him to fill a newly available US Senate seat. Thus, Bolack’s quick run as governor of New Mexico.
Bolack is the idealized version of the self-made Western man. He worked his way into his wealth, starting with next to nothing and ending as a millionaire. He took a correspondence course to learn about geology, taught himself the oil business, and quite literally made something out of nothing. He prided himself on choosing poor land and turning it into profit.
His philanthropy was wide, spreading to the nearby Navajo reservation. He converted his 3,000 acre ranch into a wildlife sanctuary for more than 25,000 waterfowl.
This Sports Illustrated article from 1970 highlights the work Bolack did to spread the growth of the Navajo willow tree – even flying out to New York himself to plant the first saplings.
Sounds amazing, right?
But one aspect of Bolack’s life doesn’t quite mesh with the rest. Bolack was an avid hunter. And by avid, I mean he shot thousands upon thousands of animals, ranging from the ordinary deer to the extraordinary “big game” animals – elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, etc. His game spanned continents and climates, shooting rhinos, polar bears, crocodiles, and wolves.
And most of these animals are available for viewing, professionally taxidermied and artfully displayed at the Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife, contained in the former home of Tom Bolack, and located on the previously mentioned wildlife sanctuary.
So, you can imagine the range of emotions we felt:
A huge wildlife sanctuary? Great!
Home to over 4,000 taxidermy animals, most of which were shot for sport? Not so great.
Animals displayed regionally, with backdrops demonstrating their climate? Pretty cool, given the context.
As we were taken through the museum, our guide explained how the museum started. Bolack combined his love of sports hunting with his philanthropic ventures – school children were brought in to see wild animals from all over the world, most of which they had never heard of or seen.
I don’t remember ever having a moment of shock, during my childhood, seeing a wild animal in person that I had only read about.
Because, having grown up a stone’s throw from the San Diego Zoo, and spending summers at the Wild Animal Park, I experienced these animals vibrant and living. I saw zebras and elephants and mountain goats and bears before I even knew what they were.
Taken in that context, it’s hard to judge the museum. Would I prefer these to be living, to be wild and free? Sure. But given the circumstances, it’s a unique way to bring the world’s wildlife to a region that may never experience it.
If you want to take a look at the pictures, click through:
Note: In the 80s, Bolack suffered a stroke, yet continued his safaris by wheelchair.
The majority of the animals were shot by Bolack himself, while several were sent to the museum to display. A small percentage died of natural (or wild) causes.
Some of my favorites:
This baby elephant was not shot by Bolack. Instead, he came across the mother, shot by poachers and discarded after the “important” pieces were taken. This stillborn baby was left inside the belly, and Bolack received permission from the local game wardens to prepare the small elephant for taxidermy.
Please note the warthog popping out of the wall!
The mythical jackalope!
We were told that the necklaces hanging in this croc’s mouth were found inside his belly – indicating he had eaten eight women!
And, just to show there was some sign of actual life, a chicken! Walking!
On a lighter note, I’m trying out a new slideshow feature. What do you think? Click on the image to move to the next photo, or you can press play!
Writing, eating, loving, laughing, and enjoying where life takes me.
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