Lifestyle & Belief

Mozambique's got some of the best bad taxidermy you'll ever see

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This poor guy.

Credit:

Erin Conway-Smith

MAPUTO, Mozambique — It's free admission day at the Natural History Museum of Maputo, and all throughout this beautiful old colonial-era building, small children are screaming in terror.

Overhead, random animal noises blare from a scratchy speaker, even though everything in this museum is dead, from the lion in the foyer and the giraffe family looming over the atrium to the wall of elephant fetuses, preserved in formaldehyde through various stages of gestation.

This might be one of the creepiest museums in the world.

The real reason the Museu de Historia Natural de Maputo is so scary? It’s got some of the worst taxidermy you’ve ever seen. Lots of it.
 

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Twitter accounts, websites and even books are devoted to the splendors of terrible taxidermy. But there’s something even more horribly delightful about seeing it up close. Here in Mozambique you can experience room after room of poorly preserved dead animals in all their unsettling glory.

The museum building is white, extravagant and stunning. It was built a century ago in neo-Manueline style, a sort of Portuguese Gothic revival architecture (Mozambique is a former colony of Portugal).
 

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In a garden out back, there's a mural by Malangatana, the Mozambican painter and poet hailed as one of Africa's greatest contemporary artists.
 

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Inside, the grandness gives way to stuffed leopards with broken faces and crooked eyes.
 

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One particularly fierce display shows a Cape buffalo attacking a lioness, while a male lion leaps at its behind, claws bared. Another display shows a leopard growling in triumph as it battles a screaming baboon.
 

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It isn't all big cats: upstairs, mangy vultures tear apart a small antelope, while a crowned eagle lifts a surprised scrub hare in its talons, up into the sky.
 

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The TripAdvisor reviews are ... mixed.

"Definitely worth a visit. Don't forget to take pictures with the lions that welcome you in," writes one fan.

"The building of the museum looks very fancy, but the animals inside are of faded glory. Very dusty, cross-eyed, stuffing falling out of them," says another.
 

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Another visitor enjoys the trip down memory lane: "Went to the museum to recover part of my life. After 50 years the museum changed its name but all the stuffed animals are in the same posit and are the same ones. Worth visiting just for fun."

There are ethnographic artifacts here, too, off in a side room. They’re genuinely interesting, but it’s hard not to focus on the animals.

On a recent Sunday, a Mozambican toddler started screaming when his father tried to show him a raggedy zebra.
 

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A French couple, escorting their two young children past a litter of demented-looking leopard cubs, stifled their laughter. "It's not in the best of shape," said the mother, Manon Mathieu, with great understatement.
 

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This strange museum may not be as strange for much longer. There are reports the museum will be undergoing a revamp of its collection, including modernization of its taxidermy techniques. Currently the animals are mounted on a plaster base, which is a problem in hot, often humid Maputo.

Despite the oddity on display, the Portuguese captions are simple and straightforward: LEOPARDO. CHITA. HIPOPOTAMO.
 

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Come on, we can do so much better than that! Go ahead — have at it. Here are a few more to inspire you:
 

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Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost

Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost

Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost

Erin Conway-Smith/GlobalPost