|DATE 5/31/2003 8:50 PM
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Heritage Council on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.
Panguitch Wildlife Museum a ‘Living Dream’
|Close your eyes before entering the Paunsagaunt Western Wildlife Museum in Panguitch. When you open them again, you will find yourself transported to another place and time.In this magical place, deer, elk and even black bears roam freely in their natural habitats. Ducks swim and nest along riverbanks, a mother beaver suckles her young, and a bobcat — maybe in search of dinner — takes a swipe at a bird flying overhead. Animals native to Africa, Asia, India and Europe can also be seen, along with rare birds from all around the world.You see, once you are inside the doors of the museum, located at 250 E. Center Street and on U.S. Highway 89, you are inside the dream of museum curator and owner Robert Driedonks. “When I was a very young man — about nine years of age — I moved from Holland to British Columbia and became very intrigued with the wilderness.“Some years later, after I moved to Las Vegas and took up hunting, I made up my mind that I would start a museum of wildlife to leave a legacy behind. I wanted people to see and experience animals in their natural habitats. It was my dream.”
For the past 37 years, Driedonks has followed that dream, traveling around the world hunting exotic game and birds, along with animals native to the United States. “When I was a young man, I used to have a plane drop me and a friend off in Alaska and pick us up a week later…I’ve hunted in Africa three times, in New Zealand, Alaska, and all over the United States.”
Nearly all of Driedonks’ hunting expeditions are part of a controlled lottery system designed to manage and protect wildlife habitat and resources. “I just got my first elk tag to hunt in Nevada — it took 28 years,” he says. “I was gone for seven days, but I never shot an elk, even though I saw many, many bulls. It isn’t always about the hunting, sometimes, it’s just about the beauty of the experience.” He also has special educational permits that allow him to obtain animals that have died naturally in the wild.
Nine years ago, Driedonks opened the Paunsagaunt Western Wildlife Museum to display his collection, choosing Panguitch because of its proximity to Bryce Canyon (some 23 miles away) and the museum’s name because Paunsagaunt like the town of Panguitch is a Piute name.
Working with taxidermist Hagan Thompson, Driedonks displays the animals in their natural habitats and mounts them in poses indicative of their behavior in the wild. The museum’s walls have also been carefully painted by professional artists to complement each display, so the animals appear to be in the mountains, grazing in a field, or by a lake or stream. Driedonks also took careful pains to ensure that the angles and lighting in the building allow people to take excellent photographs.
“Right now, I have about half of my wildlife collection on display at the museum,” say Driedonks, who divides his time between Panguitch and his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He adds that the support of his wife, Teri, has allowed him to embellish his dream and vision. The museum now features mounted displays of more than 200 native North American animals, more than 200 exotic game animals from India, Africa and Europe, and rare birds of prey (and their prey!)
Driedonks hopes to eventually expand the museum to accommodate his entire wildlife collection, valued at more than $1.3 million. “I’m going to Africa again next year, and then to British Columbia in 2005, and then I may call it quits.” At age 55, Driedonks jokes that he is “slowing down and getting more melancholy.” He also hopes to focus on other parts of his “dream.”
Over time, that dream and the museum have expanded. In addition to the birds and animals, Driedonks has also assembled a large butterfly collection of more than 1,400 specimens, and a large collection of interesting and rare insects. There are also displays of American Indian pottery, artifacts, tools and weapons. He also has fossils on display and even a collection of more than 600 sea shells. He also hosts educational programs for school and scouting troops (thousands of children have toured the museum over the past nine years) that discuss the animals, their habitats, and the history of managed sporting and the protection of wildlife resources.
“I love living my dream,” Driedonks says.
|For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council