Object of the Week: This week we bring you a once beautiful and unusual creature, delicately restored for newfound admiration by a taxidermist
Maude was the most famous animal in Belle Vue Zoo during the 1940s, seen by enormous numbers of visitors from all over the country.
© P Leggett
When she died, in 1949, her skin was given to the Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, but for some reason it was never prepared into a mounted animal. Now she has been prepared by an expert taxidermist and can be admired in something approaching her full glory.
A tigon - a cross between a tiger and a lion - she was once the pride of the city’s Belle Vue Zoo. Tigons are very rare, and this is the first one to go on display in a UK museum for around 100 years.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Belle Vue Zoo was home to two Tigons: a brother and sister born in Dresden Zoo in 1932. Kliou, a male cub, and Maude, a female cub, were the offspring of a male Manchurian Tiger and an African Lioness.
© P Leggett
They were brought to Manchester in 1936 by the zoo's manager, Gerald Iles. Kliou died in 1942 but Maude lived until December 1949. In a letter to the Museum from 1950, Iles wrote: “During her lifetime here, Maude was always greatly admired and I would say loved by a very great number of our visitors. She was always quiet and good-mannered and always appeared to be perfectly groomed.”
After Maude died in 1949, Iles arranged for her skin to be preserved so she could go on display in the museum. Iles had studied zoology at the University of Manchester, and gave a number of specimens to Manchester Museum. The skin was never mounted, but kept rolled up in a store.
© P Leggett
The recent taxidermy of the Tigon has been a very delicate operation due to the age of the skin. The taxidermist said that it had been both the most challenging and the most rewarding job of his long career.
“Maude was far too beautiful and unusual an animal for her remains to be kept away in a storeroom,” says Henry McGhie, the museum's Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology.
“We want people to be able to admire her and to hear more about the now-forgotten time when Manchester was home to such unusual animals. I hope that people will find her story as fascinating as we do.”
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
More from Culture24's Object of the Week
A bible baked in a loaf of bread from 16th century southern France
A Japanese potters' kiln inspired by 6th century Koreans and set up in an Oxford wood
An 18th century anti-slavery brooch inspired by Josiah Wedgwood