Mammals are the group of warm-blooded animals to which humans belong and so contain some of our closest relatives. The egg-laying platypus and echidnas are also mammals, but with a very different evolutionary history. Mammals include the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the tallest animal alive today, the giraffe.
RAMM’s large and impressive mounted specimens include the giant eland, the largest of antelopes and the tiger, presented by King George V. Marine mammals have also featured in the collection since 1875 and 1876 when fin whales were cast ashore at Teignmouth and Beer. Both specimens were purchased as skeletons for the Museum, though not in their entirety. Smaller whales and dolphins have since been acquired and prepared as skeletons.
Gerald the giraffe
Gerald the giraffe is one of RAMM’s most iconic specimens. This adult male giraffe has been an extremely popular exhibit at the Museum since 1920. He is a bull giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi) and would have been an outstanding animal when alive.
In 1901 he encountered big game hunter Charles Victor Alexander Peel at Moshi, Kenya, close to the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in what were German Territories. This encounter was to elevate him to iconic status far from his birthplace.
Although large mammals are the attraction for visitors, it is the smaller mammals and specimen fragments that add scientific value to a collection. Unlike birds they have not been collected for aesthetic reasons, and they are not usually mounted in lifelike poses. Even so, a collection of local species gives us a useful ecological insight as small mammals play a part in our immediate environment and everyday lives.
Often the specimens are just skins, or skins that have been stuffed with a material such as wood wool to give a rounded shape. Other specimens are mounted on a card ‘finger’ to give the skins some support.
Not just your average moles…
A variety of other animals are caught in traps that are designed to catch mammals (such as rats, mice, grey squirrels and moles) which are considered to be pests. Occasionally both the intentionally caught species, and the ‘by-catch’, are offered to the Museum. Moles were trapped in such huge numbers that no-one seemed to bother much about having representative specimens in the collection, but it appears that nearly all the albino, ginger or otherwise unusually coloured moles were retained. Most of the moles collected up to the last quarter of the 20th century were unusual colour variants. Casual collecting became a more important source of material after this period.