Hunting trophies: more fashionable than Zac Goldsmith would like

by Deborah Hadfield

A rare auction of taxidermy items including endangered animals spotlights the issue of hunting tourism. It begs the question: are trophies tainted or treasures?

Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith are convinced people should hate trophies. They’re determined to ban imports of them to the UK, and are introducing an ‘Animals Abroad’ bill in parliament to do that.

The government may be facing an uphill battle. Many people disagree with them as the booming trade in taxidermy shows. Collectors are still keen to get their hands on the exotic pieces which included tigers’ heads and a baboon head.

Many of the items in the sale at Hansons auctioneers in Derby were hidden away in the attic of collector Kevin Gittoes. His wife Julie knew he loved taxidermy, though she had no idea about the extent of his passion until after he died. The collection is considered to be one of the most unique in private hands.

Items in the sale

Mr Gittoes collected hundreds of items at his home in Worcestershire. His widow Julie put them up for auction in February 2022.

Like trophy auctions up and down the UK, they made high prices. Old trophies have never been so popular.

Mark Holder of Hanson Auctioneers, says the collection is unique. He says: “A lot of African examples we’ve got in the sale you can no longer get. A lot of species here date back to Victorian times and are now protected species. It’s not something collectors can source today.”

Fieldsports Channel viewers have mixed but generally positive views about trophies. 

Viewer David from the West Country says: “I do keep a lot of – I hate the word – trophies. I prefer to call them mounts. It doesn’t have the stigma attached to it.

“They all have such a story behind them and can also be used to educate people I different ways. I am reminded of the hunt every time I look at them. I am proud of them and will continue to get new ones mounted. Most of them have a culinary story behind them as well.

“I have a fallow buck in the freezer waiting to go to the taxidermist and a Barbary and Beceite ibex in the process of coming back soon. Many, many more upstairs. Even my wife has some mounts.”

Viewer David Lynch says: “I’ve only got two sets of antlers on my wall: my first roe and my first fallow buck, that I shot with my old man. It’s nice to have them as a memory of the day and a good conversation starter. I think it’s part of shooting sharing the meat and story telling that’s been around for hundreds or thousands of years.” 

In the Victorian era, taxidermy was considered to be an art form. It gave people the chance to get up close and personal to animals they wouldn’t normally see.

It’s still popular today. Tom Douglas and his father Sean have a family taxidermy business in Wiltshire that’s thriving. Tom says: “It was very popular in the Victorian times then it died off a bit for general people. Surprisingly, in modern days, even vegans and vegetarians are big buyers of mine for ethically-sourced taxidermy. So, stuff that is roadkill, rather than things that are shot.

“We are absolutely flat out lately. It’s very popular at the moment and it just keeps getting busier. We are getting a lot of work from new people to the sport who shoot their first birds or fisherman catch their first big fish. A lot of stuff is trophy deer. People shoot a big deer, a big trophy, or even their first animal of a species and want to save it as a memory on the wall.”

Zac Goldsmith’s proposed ban on importing hunting trophies didn’t stop buyers from all over the world getting their hands on the Kevin Gittoes collection. Kevin’s father Leslie Gittoes says it all started because his son loved shooting. He says: “I introduced him to shooting and things like that. My father was [stationed] in West Africa. In the colonial service, what they do is shoot animals, stuff them, and collect relics. He came back from Africa after the war and perhaps a bit rubbed on to Kevin.”

The private pre-auction viewing of the collection at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire was busy with buyers. They agree it was a great collection. Buyer Peter Barlow says: “Mainly, I’m interested in the fish. I’m also fascinated by the heads. It’s almost repugnant now to see them now. In my youth I used to see old photographs and think they look incredible. Now they’re almost a thing from the past.”

Mr Holder says taxidermy has an international market. He says: “We’ve had a lot of overseas interest and now with auctions being online it’s opened up the world a lot more to bidding from outside the UK. A lot more shipping companies have expanded to get these items flown around the world.”

The auction raised more than £11,000, higher than Hansons predicted. The top single bid, of £850, was for a mounted was for a mounted fox. An African lion head sold for £541.

Auctioneer Mark Holder says the auction attracted specialists. He says: “It’s got a set niche of collectors. They have big collections and they’re always looking for a different species to add to their collection. What they want to do is have one example of everything in their collection.”

Kevin’s widow, Julie, is donating to the money raised from the sale to a cancer charity. Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, says: “I am delighted Hansons achieved a strong result for this collection, particularly as I know Julie plans to make a donation to charity Sarcoma UK to honour Kevin. He lost his life to sarcoma, a form of cancer, aged only 69.”

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More views on hunting trophies from our viewers

I believe trophies are a reminder of special events, the same as a photograph but with far greater respect to the quarry, which can be preserved in a more natural form for several generations.

I used to keep squirrel tales as trophies when I was a kid but then I found a buyer for rabbit and squirrel skins/tails. I can always remember going to my friend's house and listening to his dad talk about the days shooting and the experience had. Each story included a trophy that was displayed on the wall. The trophy, whether fur or feather, always brought back the excitement in my friend's dad's voice. I have only just returned to shooting and maybe if I get a chance for a muntie or roe with a nice head then yes I will be finding a spot on the wall.

I’m not a fan of trophy hunting for its own sake, but I have kept one trophy out of respect for the quarry and the particular experience. It is not so removed from keeping a photograph. I kept a nice fallow head plus the brass. The quarry has to come first, not the desire for a head or a cape on a plaque. It’s not my thing but I wouldn’t stop others doing it, if they hunt humanely and with a purpose.

The only trophy head (skull) I kept was my first roebuck I shot, and kept it for the memories and to respect the animal.

A trophy for me could be anything from a spent shell to having some taxidermy done. It really depends on what it is. Ultimately, it's about having something facial to look at that helps you remember the day. I keep a spent shell from my first deer kill in my pocket – nothing more to it than that really.

I keep my trophies to remember the hunt and the animal every time I see it.

I have a trophy head and was a muntjac which I got and proud of. It was a 150 yard neck shot.

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