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Archive for Monday, December 10, 2001

Refuge expanding exhibits with displays of mounted animals

December 10, 2001

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— The Rolling Hills Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center is going into a different line of animal preservation.

The center, which has quickly become one of the state's largest tourist attractions, isn't discarding its mission of keeping exotic, threatened and endangered animals alive.

A planned expansion, though, will be aimed at keeping other animals looking lifelike.

The expansion at the refuge, currently home to more than 85 species of live animals, will make Rolling Hills the holder of one of the world's largest mounted animal collections.

"What is coming to the refuge is so unique," director Bob Brown said. "It's going to be huge. It's going to be open year-round, and it will depict all animals as they live on God's green earth."

The collection includes a 14-foot bull elephant; a 19-foot killer whale; polar bears; hippos; zebras; birds, fish at more than 400 species, a virtual Noah's Ark.

"When we started the zoo, we started coming across mounted collections," refuge director Bob Brown said. "We love animals dearly, and we dearly love to educate people about animals."

The museum is expected to open in three years. When it does, officials hope they can also show traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution, as the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson already does.

Many of the mounted animals had been acquired by zoos or collectors and had fallen into disrepair over the years. Some had been hunted; others had been pets. Others were nothing but skins.

The refuge has acquired more than 1,500 mounted animals. Almost all needed attention.

"We decided rather than let carpet beetles eat them up or have them go to the Dumper, we would build a tasteful museum that showcases these animals in ways that the average Kansan may never get to see them," Brown said.

That's where taxidermist Collin Campbell, who will be the curator of the new museum, comes in.

It's his job to clean, mount, groom, repair and prepare the animals in natural settings.

He carefully measures the skin and determines a mannequin size and position. Some of the mannequins he makes himself, carefully carving them out of polyurethane foam.

One mannequin was for a bison calf raised on the ranch of Charlie Walker, principal owner of the Rolling Hills Refuge. The calf was part of a buffalo herd and had died from natural causes.

Others include tigers leaping on prey, a bull elephant charging a snake and a zebra grazing.

They'll be put on exhibit with lights and sounds in a 64,000-square-foot building.

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