Carl Akeley

I was looking at some rarely seen photographs in world history on the Earthly Mission site here, and discovered this photograph:


This is a picture of the father of modern taxidermy, Carl Akeley, who in 1896 killed this leopard with his BARE HANDS after it attacked him.

There is a reason why Akeley went with Teddy Roosevelt on his African expeditions to kill everything and fill up the Natural History Museum with specimens. Akeley was a total badass. And the most badass thing about him? His actions in Africa (leopard strangling aside) are actually more palatable to us today than Roosevelt's. He was way, way ahead of his time.

Akeley had put together a lot of museum dioramas with exotic animals for, what he and most people at the time considered to be, the benefit of science. There were lots and lots of elephants and lions killed and captured for this purpose. The one animal that people really wanted to learn about was the gorilla, since there were very few in zoos and gorillas tended to be hard to find for explorers (they live in very isolated communities, often on mountains, so they're hard to find, even today, and even harder to approach).

In 1921, Akeley did an astounding thing: he went to Africa not for the purpose of bagging himself some dead gorillas, but actually to learn about them and specifically to determine if the killing of gorillas was justified, even for the purposes of education and science. He went to the Congo (always a naturally dangerous and often a politically unstable place), hiked up this chain of volcanoes, and spent a great deal of time studying a relatively unknown animal who could easily tear your head off if it felt threatened.

He did all of this in order to justify to himself that his research was ethical.

He determined it wasn't.

In fact, he was so tremendously swayed in the other direction that he spent the remaining years of his life setting up a gorilla preserve in those specific mountains, even convincing the King of Belgium (whose country had colonized the Congo and whose colonization techniques were known to be exceptionally brutal, even for the time) to set up Africa's very first national park. Which he did, in 1925. It is now the Virunga National Park.

Now, this is not to say that Akeley was totally opposed to collecting animals for education purposes, but he was profoundly against collecting them as trophies. At the very least, he wanted researchers to spend time with exotic animals and learn more about them while the animals were still alive; bagging them to ship back to a museum was a last-resort option.

These are, of course, only a small fraction of the cool things Akeley did. He wasn't just an explorer, stuffer of dead emus, or puncher of leopards. He was also an inventor. He came up with the idea of a cement gun to repair and save crumbling buildings.

He also dreasically improved the motion picture camera (all the way back before 1915) to make it way, way more mobile. While he did this to make it easier to capture footage of animals in the wild, it actually became hugely beneficial to the Allied war effort (they mounted his cameras on planes so pilots could bring back evidence of enemy troop movements). His cameras also, naturally, were picked up by Hollywood to use in their big action sequences.

He had more than 30 patents at the time of his death. Oh, and he wrote children's books. I like to think they are hardcore morality tales that make the Brothers Grimm look LAME. "Remember, children, only kill another living creature if it tries to kill you first. But make sure to use your hands. Using anything else just isn't sporting. Helpful Tip:Did you know that lions have really soft skulls? That's their weakness."

He also reminds me a bit of Tywin Lannister. So there's that.

He died in 1926 of a fever when he was in the middle of his fifth trip to the Congo.

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