Many refer to me as being different, strange, crazy, odd, or, even a bit eccentric. I guess that is a product of one of my personality traits, mentioned in an earlier blog. But, it seems that many that love Africa and the animals that abide therein share this quirk, especially, those from the Victorian era.
One such character was Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild. That name may sound familiar to my regular blog readers as Lord Rothschild identified the "Rothschild" subspecies of giraffe during a trip to East Africa in the early 1900s. Daisy from my earlier Raising Daisy Rothschild blog, was a Rothschild giraffe.
Rothschild was born in 1868, a son of an extremely wealthy banking family. He was obsessed with animals from a very young age, and spent hours studying the insects in his family's garden. As his interest grew, his family funded his efforts to begin a collection of various, insects, birds and mammals. By the time he entered university, Rothschild had accumulated kangaroos, emus, zebras, wild horses, cranes, storks, a spiny anteater and a pangolin.
Once his studies were through, he was expected to go into the family business, which he did for 15 years, though his heart was not in it. Rothschild wanted to expand his animal collection. Supported by his families wealth, Rothschild employed people to collect his specimens from all over the globe. He opened a zoo in Tring, England, about forty miles out of London, where he housed his new menagerie of creatures, some stuffed from earlier collections. He eventually compiled what is said to be the largest collection of animal samples ever amassed by a private individual with over 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 bird eggs, 30,000 beetles and numerous mammals and reptiles. As a result of his animal studies, Rothschild identified 153 new insects, 58 types of birds, three spiders and, of course, the aforementioned giraffe.
Although a bit strange, having a tortoise that he would occasionally ride, dangling a lettuce leaf in front of the creature to inspire movement, he was very serious about collecting and recording exotic species. Speaking of riding, Rothschild rejected the accepted belief that zebras were untameable. He set out to prove otherwise, hiring a horse trainer who worked with the animals until they finally were able to pull a cart (as shown above). Rothschild then drove a carriage being pulled by six zebras across London and up to Buckingham Palace, achieving the illusion of tame zebras just like an English Phineas T. Barnum. Although Rothschild pulled it off, the consensus still holds true today. While one-off attempts to tame a single zebra may be successful, domesticating them, breeding captive herds specifically for human use, has proved impossible. Zebras continue to be wild animals.
Of all of his love for nature, Rothschild had a special attraction to the Cassowary, a large colorful flightless bird of Papua, New Guinea. He obsessively collected the birds, alive and dead, studied their plumage, their habits and behaviors. And, in 1900, he published his magnum opus, a monograph of the Genus Casuarius, complete with numerous colored illustrations of the birds.
In 1931, Rothschild's ideal world would start coming apart at the seams when, surprisingly, he sold his vast bird collection to the American Museum of Natural History for a mere $225,000. The acquisition was a steal, as the collection had an estimated worth of $2,000,000. Rothschild's health began to fail and in August of 1937 he died.
Turns out that Rothschild had kept a secret during his lifetime, he had been financially supporting two mistresses. He had put both women up in London apartments and juggled his time with both women, until one found out about the other. The two then combined forces and, literally, took Rothschild to the cleaners. But, this was not the nail in the coffin that caused the bargain sale of birds. In 1983, forty six years after his death, it was revealed that Rothschild had had a third lover who proceeded with blackmail, which increased his stress, along with other health issues and pushed him into making the incredible deal to the museum.
Apparently, crazy old Rothschild had attempted taming and collecting a new species...the human female.