I realised Ruth Leopardforce, digitisation technician, is an interesting person when I asked about the origins of her unusual second name. “I made it up,” she says. And so we moved on.
We were standing beside a small, spotted cat, stuffed and mounted in a semi-crouching position, although slightly off-balance. I put that down to either age or alcohol, with most bets on the former.
Why this exhibit? Ruth says she has an interest in animals preserved by the taxidermist and an obsession with leopards. We didn’t take that any further, although it promised to be an illuminating discussion. Another time, perhaps.
This particular animal is a Clouded Leopard, a relic from Mr JJ Boyd’s zoo at Aramoho of the early 20th century. Mrs Hayward’s Aramoho Tea Gardens evolved into the Aramoho Zoo – and enterprise run by animal lover and collector, JJ Boyd. Animals included lions, tigers, black bears, kangaroos, exotic birds, monkeys, tortoises and tropical fish … to name a few. The zoo closed after neighbours complained that the roaring lions kept them awake at night. I wonder if the smell was ever mentioned.
Mr Boyd moved his zoo, lock stock and marsupial, to Onehunga, where, under the name Royal Oak Zoo, it flourished for 10 years until similar complaints forced its closure. Ruth says an electrician friend of hers was working on an Aramoho property last year when he discovered a collection of Mr Boyd’s zoo cages under the house.
The featured leopard was stuffed and mounted by Archie Robertson; it was his first job and became part of his house museum collection. Now it is one of three creatures from Aramoho Zoo stored at Whanganui Regional Museum; the other two being a wallaby and a tuatara, of all things.
Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in September 2010. Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.