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Taxidermy: has it fallen out of fashion?

Mounted beasts once adorned the walls of rural pubs all around the country, but these examples of taxidermy have fallen out of fashion, says Alasdair Mitchell


On a skiing holiday in the Austrian Alps, I noticed a framed photo in the hotel lobby. It showed the hotel’s owner grinning proudly as he kneeled, clutching a rifle, beside a dead chamois. Can you imagine such a display in a hotel in the UK? You might possibly find a photo of a salmon, probably with a caption carefully explaining that it was subsequently released.

Festooned with taxidermy

Many of the hotels, mountain huts and bars in the Austrian Alps are festooned with taxidermy. The mounts on display include a variety of birds — including a collection of raptors that would give the RSPB a fit — as well as foxes, badgers, wild boar, red stags, roebucks and ibex. One hotel lobby even boasted a splendid collection of African plains game.


I can only assume that Guardian readers don’t form much of the customer base of this particular hotel — though I note it gets excellent reviews from UK skiers on TripAdvisor. Rural Austria is not known for its vegetarian cuisine, so I expect that aspect acts as a filter.

There was once a cape buffalo shoulder mount in a country house hotel in Northumberland. The plaque revealed that it had been shot in Zimbabwe by the hotel’s then owner. It seems he had no qualms about putting his name to his trophy. But the hotel changed hands and the mighty bovine is no longer hanging in pride of place.

A friend of mine insisted on hanging the head of a cape buffalo he had shot. He lived in a charming but rather small cottage. If you have ever seen a buffalo shoulder mount, you will recognise the problem he faced. My friend had planned to hang it in the hallway, but that would have entailed visitors having to edge past the beast, nose to nose. (Read more on trophy hunting.)

In the end, he had to have it shortened to barely more than the actual head. I gleefully derided it as a ‘snout mount’. When I was a boy, I remember my father allowing me a furtive peek into a saloon bar of a pub in the West Country to see the otter masks on the wall. I wonder if they are still there? There are still plenty of country pub walls featuring tatty, smoke-stained fox masks, though taxidermy is out of fashion and seems to linger more by neglect than by intention.


Deer antlers still feature in quite a few rural hostelries — particularly in the more remote parts of highland Scotland. Sometimes they have been relegated to hat or coat hangers. Skull mounts are the most common, full shoulder mounts are much less so.

Mind you, I do know of a full body mount of a stag on public display, though it is part of a joke; it has large wings attached and is leaping high above the Flying Stag bar at the plush Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar, Aberdeenshire.

Fish, deer and foxes still decorate the walls of rural pubs up and down the country, but I wouldn’t mind betting that their numbers are dwindling.