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Museum puts wildlife exhibits in natural settings
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Canadian lynx snagging a duck out of the air, a coyote about to pounce on a quail and a pair of wolves about to drag down a caribou. Those are just some of the displays featured at a wildlife museum near Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Paunsaugunt Wildlife Museum, started by Robert Driedonks, represents more than 850 animals he has hunted or collected during the past 45 years.

Besides animals familiar to the American West, he has beasts on display from other countries, including lions, baboons and various African gazelles from Africa.

In addition are displays of, snakes and other reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, fish and insects, including a collection of 1,600 exquisitely colored butterflies professionally mounted, framed and hung along the walls.

His latest addition: a display of sea shells resting on real ocean sand.

What is different from just a trophy room of animal heads stuffed and mounted on the walls -- there are plenty of those in the museum -- are the steps Driedonks has taken in displaying many of the animals in dioramas where they are depicted as predators, on the wing and even playing, as they might be doing in their natural habitat.

"The grass, soil, cactus are all real," he said of materials used in constructing the scenes. "Even the scat [animal waste] is real."

Among the dioramas are deer, pronghorn antelope and a black bear shot in British Columbia, along with scenes featuring beavers, river otters, waterfowl and bobcats. Many of the background paintings depict mesas and plateaus of Garfield County landscape.

Driedonks said the museum is the culmination of a dream he has had since immigrating to Nevada as a teenager in the early 1960s from Rotterdam, Holland.

"The animals represent 41 years of hunting all over the world," he said. "That includes the wilds of Africa, China, Tibet, all over Alaska, Canada and western United States.

He said practically every dollar he has ever earned, including from mortgaging his houses through the years, has gone into the museum.

"You breathe it and live it," he said.

Driedonks said animals, such as raptors and some mammals, were hunted or collected before federal laws made it illegal to hunt them.

"It's getting harder to get a tag now to hunt some animals," he said. "It used to be you could get a license over the counter."

Many of the insects, including the butterflies and other crawly specimens in the museum, were collected with the help of entomologists, he said.

He said to achieve his effect, once an animal is skinned, the hides and are sent to a tannery where they are treated for up to a year.

Driedonks said the treated skins are then fitted and sewn over polyurethane forms resembling the body of a particular creature in any pose he prefers.

He said he uses a taxidermist to help with the eyes and head.

"To save money, I do a lot of the sewing myself," he said.

Darren Tackett, of Salina, who toured the museum recently, was impressed with the reality of the displays.

"I like the little lizards and rattlesnakes," said Tackett. "They make the [dioramas] really cool."

David Fisher and his family from Virginia toured the museum one recent afternoon when they tired of hiking in the area's parks.

"We read about it [museum] in a travel book," he said. "When it got too cold to hike, we thought we'd check it out. It's very impressive."

Driedonks' wife, Teri, said the couple opened the museum 13 years ago in Panguitch, but moved several years ago to their current location along State Route 12 where the tourist traffic was heavier.

She said most who see the museum, including the plethora of European and Asian tourists who pass through the area, are amazed by the detail in the exhibits.

"Many are surprised to see what the animals look like in nature," said Teri Driedonks, standing in the museum store that offers T-shirts, mugs, jewelry and items resembling artifacts of the area's American Indian cultures.

The couple's dream is not over They plan to add a 4,000-square-foot addition to the existing 14,000-square-foot museum to display still more items, including 1,100 eggs collected before the practice was outlawed in the early 20th century.

"I bought the egg collection from a family in Florida after having it authenticated," said Robert Driedonks. "It's [museum] not just about animals. It's almost overwhelming."

mhavnes@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mhavnes@sltrib.com

What: Paunsaugunt Wildlife Museum.

Where: 1945 W. SR12 in Garfield County.

When: April to mid-November.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Prices: Age 13-older, $8; ages 4-12, $5; age 3-younger, free.

For more information, go to http://brycecanyonmuseum.com" Target="_BLANK">brycecanyonmuseum.com, or call 435-834-5555.

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