This Palestinian Taxidermist’s Stuffed Animal Zoo Is Heartbreaking
OK sure, so somebody stuffed Napoleon’s horse, but in general, no one pays too much attention to the animal victims of war. No one except Dr. Sami Khader, that is.
Dr. Khader lives in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. It’s a place that’s seen its fair share of hate. Since 2003, the 40,000 or so people who live there have been encircled by the walls of theinfamous Israeli West Bank Barrier. It’s also home to Palestine’s only zoo, where Dr. Khader is the resident veterinarian and director.
Scattered around his room are plastic soda bottles of various sizes that serve as mobile terrariums for the doctors’ creatures. On the table two snakes are curled up at the base of their bottles, on the floor a scorpion paces back and forth in its container and a soda bottle pokes out of the doctor’s leather bag, though I can’t see what creature is living in that. Maybe it’s just a Coke. All the animals were either found by the doctor or dropped in by the Qalqilya townspeople, and scattered among the living are skeletons, pinned insects and a stuffed bobcat.
Dr Sami Khader, director, resident veterinarian, and self-taught taxidermist at Qalqilya’s zoo.
“Do you want to hold it?” Dr. Khader asks, gesturing to a snake on the desk. He casually describes being bitten by another snake recently, by a species that could, apparently, have killed him in an hour had it not been for a delayed shot of antivenom.
“It was a very stupid day,” recalls Dr. Khader. “I was giving a lecture at a school and I brought some snakes to show the kids. It was dark and I reached into the wrong container. Usually I pick the snake up by its head, but this day I chose the wrong snake and I was bitten. I acted like nothing happened. I finished the presentation then went to the hospital.”
I’m not here to gawk at snakes in bottles, though, I’m here to see an exhibition of stuffed animals that Dr. Khader has created from the beasts that were killed in the Second Intifada, the four-year period of fighting that claimed the lives of 4,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis.
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr. Khader appears to be an entirely self-taught taxidermist.