The Anniston Museum Elephant

Since the 1970s, an African Elephant mount greets all guests of the Anniston Museum of Natural History. Museum staff travelled to Kenya to bring the specimen to Anniston. It is an iconic piece of the Environments of Africa exhibit hall. Generations of families have enjoyed its magnificence and taking photos in front of it. Also collected on the trip were sixteen other mammal or avian species, forty-three plant specimens, and numerous photos and videos.

In June of 1974, director Arthur Von Settlemyre and businessman Gerald Powell flew to Kenya to collect an authentic, full-size African elephant mount. The trip lasted twenty-two days, including a bout of malaria by Von Settlemyre. They followed a herd of elephants from a small village. A poacher injured one elephant with a poisoned arrow. It was lodged deep in the side of the elephant, killing it slowly and painfully. In an act of mercy, the elephant was put down and the hide donated to the Anniston Museum of Natural History. Though the mount was acquired in 1974, it took several years to complete the taxidermy process.

A base had to first be built to support the massive weight of the mount. Taxidermists used a large image of an African elephant to create a pose to present the elephant’s post, height, and width. Museum staff created the elephant forms in two halves. Wire mesh created the realistic form to ‘flesh out’ the final shape. Burlap covered in plaster solidified the structure. It was at this point where every detail of the skin fold and texture was addressed and had to be finalized. Soft-tissues cannot be preserved, so the mouth and eyes must be created from resin, marbles, or another hard medium. Even on a small animal, the process is time-consuming. The Anniston Museum weighs tons. Several people worked on the mount over time to bring it to the public.

At the time of its completion in 1978, Anniston Museum was only the fifteenth museum in the world to have an authentic full-mount of an African elephant. Anniston Museum strives to provide world-class educational pieces and curate an internationally impressive collection. We never do it alone. Donations of specimens, volunteer labor, and monetary gifts from members and generous citizens allow Anniston Museum to present our collections and exhibits in a superior fashion.

As we celebrate 90 years, we thank everyone who has ever donated or supported the museum. We look forward to serving our community for the next 90 years!