Animal Displays

The Mammal displays in the museum depict a magnificent selection of over 400 specimens including most of the larger southern African mammals and many smaller species too. Most were collected on expeditions by Captain Guy Shortridge, director of the museum from 1920 – 1949, One visitor described the display as “The Kruger Park in still-life“, when he was able to see all the species he had recently seen from afar in said park really close up in the museum.

In addition, our museum is one of only three museums in South Africa that has a beehive with a live swarm of bees on display with accompaying information, which is useful to researchers and students alike.

Collected in the Addo area (now Addo Elephant Park)
Carnivore diarama
Skeleton of a lion on display

Wolsak Story (abridged)

THE CAPE BUFFALO (Bos caffer) was formerly found throughout the whole of South Africa, but the combined assaults of its only two enemies, the lion and man, have in some districts so reduced its members that according to Drummond writing as far back as 1875, where there were formerly herds from ten to one hundred in numbers, now not ten are to be found. Although Buffaloes are reckoned the most dangerous of South African animals, few instances occur of them charging without provocation, and the number of lives lost in buffalo hunting is probably due to want of care in approaching wounded animals. When charging, a Buffalo does not lower his head but raises his nose in the air, and just before reaching his object, suddenly twists its head round sideways and impales his foe.

The specimen on exhibition was shot near Trappe’s Valley in the Bathurst district of the Eastern Cape in 1906 and Mr Pym (the first director of the Amathole Museum) gave the following account of how it was secured.

After receiving the necessary permit to shoot “royal game” from the Secretary for Agriculture, and permission from Messrs Job Timm and Wm. Pike to hunt for buffalo on their farms, Elephant Park and Dundas respectively, Mr Pym proceeded to Trappes Valley by rail, was met by Mr Fred Timm and conveyed to the scene of action. The following morning, after early breakfast, we formed a party consisting of Mr Job Timm and his three sons, Mr Wm Pike, Mr Rio Timm and Mr Pym. We tramped out to the bushy part of Elephant Park on the banks of the Fish River, a distance of about five miles from Mr Timm’s homestead.

At the first view of the extensive bush, spreading over miles upon miles of country, Mr Pym was seized with a feeling that the possibility of shooting a Buffalo in such a country was a very poor one. On entering the bush, the same idea haunted him, and he could plainly see that unless a Buffalo passed within five or six yards of one, it would be almost impossible to get anything but a glimpse of the animal.

To make a long story short it may be mentioned here that just before entering the bush, a Bushbuck ram broke cover and unfortunately was tired at by two of the party, (Mr Pym would have fired also but was engaged at the time securely pocketing a snake he had just caught). This little incident probably accounted for the first day’s Buffalo hunt proving futile. The Buffaloes, having been disturbed by the report of the guns, trekked about six miles down into the depths of the kloofs. With the aid of beaters and dogs, we tried our utmost to come in touch with them, but without avail. A Buffalo calf, however, was caught by the dogs, but fortunately escaped.

Mr Pike and Mr Rio Timm followed the spoor of the Buffaloes for three or four miles, but darkness setting in, the chase had to be abandoned, so the party collected and wended its way homewards. The evening was spent at bridge, but the minds of the party being charged to the extreme with Buffaloes, there were many interruptions and stories of the chase.

Mr Pym had noticed during the day the spoor of a very large Buffalo, and remarked at the time that he was the specimen required for the King Museum, and that if he could get a shot at him he would be quite satisfied. He spoke of this animal again during the evening, and Mr Pike informed him that he knew the animal to be a very large bull – he was known as “Wol Zak.” “Man!” said Mr Pike, “If you shoot old ‘Wol Zak, you will have a fine Museum specimen.” “Well,” Mr Pym said jocularly, ” I want him, and if we don’t get him tomorrow, I am going to fill my pockets with biltong and follow his spoor until I do get a shot at him.” “Never mind,” replied Mr Pike, ” I think he will come back to this part of the bush during the night, and one of us might get a shot at him in the morning. I saw his spoor amongst those of the Buffaloes that trekked to-day.”

The following morning early, Mr Pike and Messrs Rio and Fred Timm resumed their occupation of the previous evening, and found that the Buffalo had returned to the scene of the previous day’s hunt. Mr Pike remained at the bottom of the kloof, while the two other gentlemen mentioned returned to meet the rest of the party at the top.

Positions were then taken up in the bush about three miles ahead of the beaters. Messrs Rio and Stewart Timm accompanied Mr Pym to a spot which was thought a good one, and through which Buffaloes had recently passed. This spot consisted of an opening in the path about 6 yards long by 1 ½ yards wide. Mr Pym took up his position about two feet from the path and found it necessary to cut away a few twigs and branches in order to get a clear view of any Buffalo that night appear (for he had made up his mind not to shoot at any but a full grown one). This done, his companions left him to take up positions about a mile further down the kloof.

Mr Pym waited patiently for about an hour, straining his ears for any sound of approaching game. This becoming rather monotonous he passed the next ten minutes gnawing at a piece of biltong and a sandwich, after which he lighted his pipe and puffed away freely. (This may sound rather unsportsmanlike, but a pipe is very soothing at times, and as the wind was in his favour, he saw no reason why he should not smoke). He had not been more than five minutes indulging in this last pleasant occupation, musing over things in general, when a tremendous crash in the bush about 300 yards above him put him on the alert. He examined his rifle to see that all was ready. The crashing and swaying of the bushes that followed conveyed to him the knowledge that something huge was coming full trot for his position. He could plainly hear the sound of horns coming in contact with branches while loose stones in the path were scattered in all directions. Closer and closer the object came, until, when within less than half-a-dozen yards of him, it suddenly stopped, then turned slightly off (having probably scented him) and charged forward, but only to stop again not many yards from his position, apparently not knowing exactly what to make of the indications. This stop gave Mr Pym the opportunity he wanted, for, peering through the bush he caught sight of the outline of a huge Buffalo’s body as it turned and with its nose poked out walked in his direction sniffing the air the while. He raised his rifle, took steady aim at the Buffalo’s neck and fired and had the satisfaction of hearing his bullet strike with a deadly thud. The crashing of the bush that followed, and then a sudden stop led him to suspect that the Buffalo was in all probability waiting for him to follow. This he did not do at once, as he heard the Buffalo move again, this time apparently retracing his steps and then stop again. Mr Pym thought discretion the better part of valour, for a wounded Buffalo at bay is a dangerous customer to confront, so having placed a second bullet from the magazine of his rifle into the barrel in case the wounded beast charged, he waited until he heard him again moving off, and then he followed. He had not gone far, and was looking for the spoor when Mr Timm, attracted to the scene by the report of the rifle joined him. A very slight blood spoor was found and followed for some distance up a hill. Mr Timm remarked that they were not acting wisely in following without dogs, so they decided to retrace their steps and await the remainder of the party and the (beater)s with the dogs.

They had just turned when Mr Fred Timm shouted from the hill that he heard the Buffalo pass through the bush about 30 yards behind him. Mr Pym then left the blood spoor and walked in Mr Timm’s direction intending to pick the spoor up at the point at which the Buffalo was heard to pass, but to his surprise found a fresh spoor but no sign of blood. Mr Fred Timm then accompanied Mr Pym to the spot where he had left the blood spoor. They followed it a little further, and found that the Buffalo had stood several times and bled profusely. Thinking that the wounded beast might be standing waiting for their approach in a thicket ahead, Mr Timm said: “Let us leave him until we get the dogs,” and almost in the same breath added: “There he lies,” Mr Pym looked up, and before him not more than a few yards distant his Buffalo lay.

Two shots were fired in quick succession to attract the rest of the party, this being the signal previously decided upon to indicate that a Buffalo had been either wounded or killed.

Mr Pike, who was furthest from the scene, was the last of the party to arrive, but the expression of genuine pleasure on his face when he beheld the Buffalo was well worth seeing. He walked forward, sat on the animal, and exclaimed: “It’s old “Wol Zak”, it’s old “Wol Zak,” the finest Buffalo in the country , who shot him?” On being informed he gave Mr Pym a hearty handshake. Mr Timm assured Mr Pym that a finer animal could not have been found and that he could not have been better pleased if he had shot the animal himself. Having taken all the necessary measurements and photographed the Buffalo, with the aid of the Kafirs the whole party set to work at skinning. This little operation, with the cutting up of the carcase, kept us employed for the rest of the day, and it was pitch dark before we made our exit from the bush. Every particle of the meat was made use of, and even the viscera was taken by the (beaters). The use of eight oxen and a sledge, brought to within 200 yards of where the Buffalo was skinned, minimised the difficulty of transporting the skin and meat to a wagon that was waiting at the edge of the bush. When the Buffalo was placed thereon, the work of the day was over, and we returned to the homestead with our trophy.

Extract from: Visitor’s guide to the collections contained in the King William’s Town museum. Compiled and edited by Frank A. O. Pym (ca. 1907)