Russian State Darwin Museum in Russia

Russian State Darwin Museum


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Russian State Darwin Museum, Russia .

Taxidermy specimens

Russian State Darwin Museum has in its collection 2 elephantine taxidermy specimens with records in this database:

(Measurements of teeth and body parts follow the system described by Maglio (1973; P = plate number, L = length, W = width, H = height, LF = lamellar frequency)

    Nicholaus IIs elephant Accession nr: . Received: 1916-00-00 Nicholaus IIs elephant
    Species: African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana)
    * Born at Africa unspecified location † Dead 1916 at Moscow Zoo
    Death: disease Death reason: caught a cold and died
    Mounted 1916-00-00 by Filipp Fedulov

    Jin-Dau Accession nr: . Received: 1936-00-00 Jin-Dau
    Species: Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)
    * Born at Asia unspecified location † Dead 1936 at Moscow Zoo
    Death: Death reason: unknown (N/A)

Comments / picturesIn the autumn of 1916, the African elephant, the pride of Nicholas II’s menagerie in Tsarskoye Selo was to be transported to Moscow. On the way over the elephant caught a cold and died. But a royal elephant is a royal elephant, and what was left of it had to be preserved. The hide alone weighed more than a ton. It was cut into three parts and pickled in barrels.

Russian State Darwin Museum in Russia RussiaIn 1927, Alexander Kohts finally got permission, and the hide, together with the surviving Skull and Tusks, was at his complete disposal. The only taxidermist available in the museum was co-founder Filipp Fedulov. The elephant later turned out to be his best work.

Work on Nicholas II’s stuffed African elephant took five months; the scientists faced with a number of difficulties over that period. Decades of storage in a salt barrel made the skin stiff. To facilitate the taxidermist’s work, the hide was sent to a facility where it was softened and the thickness was reduced from five centimetres to three. Yet, that was not enough to create a quality mount. Fedulov continued to improve the hide himself. Painstakingly and persistently he shaved off layers of the skin for several months until he achieved a thickness of one centimeter.

A sketch of the future mount was being created at the same time by yet another co-founder of the museum, artist Vasily Vatagin. He too faced a difficult task – the size and physiological characteristics of these elephants were poorly studied then. Vatagin had no living elephant to look at, and had to be guided by descriptions in related literature.

Furthermore, the sketch was not on paper – it was a mural. Vatagin drew a full size silhouette of a trumpeting elephant in the main room. After this, they made a wooden frame and a stand. The frame for the elephant’s legs was made of iron rod, and its ribs were made of thick wire. It was decided to make the animal’s muscles from straw, and it took two full carts full.

In taxidermy, they never use the actual Skull for a mount, so Vatagin made a full size elephant Skull model. The actual Tusks were too heavy as well, so they had to be replicated in wood. The last step was the modeling of the skin, which was pulled over the frame. It had to be kept wet for some time, as required for the technical process; this was done with the help of wet towels.

Taxidermist Philip Fedulov made the Indian elephant mount as well. This time he treated the skin and built the frame himself. Artist Vatagin again drew a sketch on the wall. Only this time it was not trumpeting, just walking.

There were more problems, this time with the straw muscles. By then, wheat crops were being processed mechanically; with the new method, the straw was soaked and was no longer suitable for use in a mount. Therefore, it was decided to use wood shavings and interlay them with canvases. The work on the second elephant mount took six months and was finished in 1937.

References for records about Russian State Darwin Museum

Recommended Citation

Koehl, Dan (2021). Russian State Darwin Museum, Elephant Encyclopedia. Available online at (archived at the Wayback machine)

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