A Gemsbok Named Velvet Or Why I Love Taxidermy

Jody’s majestic gemsbok, Velvet. (Photo: Jody Jones / TueNight)

It may sound strange — perhaps even stranger than strange — to have a five-foot tall piece of taxidermy in a 500 square foot apartment.

Well, I guess I’m stranger than strange.

I’m not a big fan of vintage. I don’t like popping tags. Smelling like mothballs and failed deodorant is not my idea of fashion or fun. Yard sales? Meh. Someone else’s crap is generally going to be my crap as well. I will not dumpster dive. You tend to get what you pay for.

But based on my love of taxidermy, I guess you could say that I have an affinity for things that used to be something else, which is, I suppose, the same as the adoption and renovation of found items.

There she was, right between the piglet and the jackalope. Glorious, glorious Velvet. She was exactly what I wanted.

To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than majestic animals — especially mammals. So why wouldn’t I want to have one as part of my home’s design, assuming the creature is not endangered and had already met with a legal, ethical demise?

I did my research on that issue first. I learned how to make sure taxidermy was legally obtained and that it could be legally sold in New York; to look for things of purveyors like licenses and/or endorsement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. I couldn’t just hope an eBay seller was compliant; I had to seek out an establishment that would do this the right way.

Next I investigated the kind of beast I might want to have hanging on my wall. I honed in on a type of African antelope called a gemsbok, also known as an oryx. Spectacular markings, noble horns, nice and big. Known to be able to survive in the toughest environmental conditions. In medieval times, gemsboks were even thought to be related to mythical unicorns — or to actually be unicorns. Though it might be a bit out of scale for my small New York City home, I envisioned it one day living above a grand fireplace in an old farmhouse.

Before taking another step, I needed to get more information on the species, beyond its looks. Gemsboks are not threatened or endangered. The controlled hunting activity within national parks provides an economic contribution to the countries where it occurs, which ensures that population numbers are kept in check. Local tribesmen hunt the gemsbok for its meat. I felt comfortable that I was not doing something that would go against my ethical standards.

Now that I had done my research, it was go time. And I found the perfect opportunity to take the taxidermy-purchase plunge when three of my best friends came to town for an epic girls’ weekend of drinking, eating and spending too much money on pricey non-essentials. Where the others bought earrings and intimates, I had a mount in my sights. I was shopping for an animal, old and dead.

Following a few rounds of bubbly, I directed us to the The Evolution Store. This joint has everything odd; it’s a weirdo’s dream. Skulls, skeletons, fossils, rocks, minerals — you name it.

And taxidermy.

I knew the shop carried legally-obtained taxidermy, but I didn’t know they would have “Velvet.” My gemsbok.

There she was, right between the piglet and the jackalope. Glorious, glorious Velvet. She was exactly what I wanted.

Love at first sight: Jody finds her gemsbok at The Evolution Store. (Photo courtesy Jody Jones)

(Note: I call her “she” though Velvet is likely not a female. She no longer has the half of her body that would definitely indicate that, so, whatevs.)

Fortified by champagne — and the truth that this was something I actually did want despite the booze — I plunked down the $2,500 “adoption fee.” She was mine.

Getting her to her new home, however, was a little trickier. Remember — she’s five feet tall, three feet wide and pretty bulky. Not thinking this fully through, I decided to leave Velvet at the store and pick her up the next day, so I could enjoy the rest of my shopping.

The next morning I dragged my niece down to the Soho shop to help me bring Velvet home. I figured we’d just hail a cab and be off.

Only… gemsboks do not fit easily in taxi cabs. Who knew? I ended up having to lay down on the back seat, with Velvet straddling me. My niece was in the front seat, taking pictures, of course.

But after the awkward, rainy ride through the city, Velvet was in her new home.

She has become a source of joy for me and for her fans (yes, she has her own private Facebook page). She gets dressed up for occasions and visitors. Halloween costumes? Yep. Last year she was a cowgirl.

Velvet has been my roommate for going on six years. She’s definitely a conversation piece whenever someone new comes into my apartment.

Questionably-intentioned suitors (of me, not her) have on occasion noted that Velvet seems to be staring them down, watching over me and the dog.

Service people in particular seem to be fascinated. Really, who wouldn’t be? It’s not often you find a spectacular African animal in the heart of the city.

Even if she is just biding time until she lands in that big country home. Hey — we both are.

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One Response

  1. Clyde

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