Rahmat Shah is a living, breathing paradox. He's every animal lover's nightmare, although he's very fond of animals. He hunts often, killing an untold number of beasts, but he's also the head of Indonesia's zoo association. He's a businessman, a former member of the DPRD, and a member of Pemuda Pancasila—a controversial paramilitary group linked to the 1965 communist purges.
Since 1999, Rahmat invested millions of rupiah into his pet project, the "Rahmat International Wildlife Museum and Gallery." It's the only museum in Asia with more than 5,000 taxidermied specimens on display.
The collection comes from a lifetime of traveling the world, finding exotic animals, and killing them. He's spent thousands of US dollars on these hunting trips, and, in some instances, waited years to see his taxidermied kills arrive back home in Medan, North Sumatra.
But he believes all this hunting is for a greater good. Rahmat practices "conservation hunting," which advocates claim actually helps increase animal populations. We met him at his museum in Medan, where he was enthusiastic to show off his collection.
VICE Indoensia: How many species do you have here?
Rahmat Shah: We have around 2,500 species, but more than 5,000 specimens. Al of these were dead animals from the national zoo. Some were given to me as a gift from my friends, some were donated. This is a conservation unit. Here you can find animals as varied as ants and mosquitos to elephants, lions and crocodiles.
Where did this idea come from?
I happen to be the head of the Indonesian Zoo Association. Look, it's not just a conservation site, it's also an educational place. We built this to encourage the youngsters, to invite them to care for plants and animals, to love nature, God's creatures, and the natural wonders of Indonesia.
I saw at the entrance a photo of you on the cover of Sportsman of the Year. Do you see hunting as a sport?
I hunt, that's right. I didn't believe in it when I first heard about it, but now I understand that hunting actually increases animal populations and takes care of the habitats. I learned about that, and I'm also a lifelong member of the Safari Club International. Alhamdulilah, I am the first Indonesian man who received the "Big Five" grand slam award for hunting, the international conservation award, et cetera.
So, as an animal lover, how do you justify killing animals for sport?
There are rules about hunting as conservation. We're only allowed to hunt during the day. We only hunt the old male animals and we have to shoot them right in the head. This is a legal, responsible hunt. It's conservation. We only increase their populations. These same rules apply in the U.S., Russia, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, Iran, Romania, and other countries.
So you're not like an average hunter?
What I do is different from what is commonly considered hunting in Indonesia. They usually use a flashlight and shoot in the eye. They also shoot females, sometimes even pregnant ones. Sometimes they even shoot young animals. What I do is different. The international standard is that the hunts need to be supervised. We're part of the conservation effort. We care for the animals. We're not just hunters. We're trophy hunters. Conservation hunters.
Who comes to this museum?
We get visitors from all over Indonesia. And also some other countries. Government officials, they're always happy and encouraged to come. They find a reason to care for the plants and animals here. They get a calling to manage the natural environment, and to campaign about it. If we don't take good care of the animals, there will be nothing left for our grandchildren but audio recordings and video footage.
So do you travel the world to add to your collection?
I mostly learn more about different approaches to conservation hunting and its relationship to population control. It's not about killing as many animals as possible. I've been to Canada and walked and rode a horse for dozens of hours just to shoot one old male goat.
Do you ever ask for funding from the government?
Nope, we've got it covered. The government gave us a permit to ship taxidermied animals overseas. We don't have to pay for customs because we're an educational and conservation site. We also receive help from friends in the zoo association, because when an animal dies, they'll send it to me.
So are all of these animals ones you've killed? Or are some from zoos?
I bought some of the dead animals from the zoo. The process is simple. I have friends, and although it's a bit expensive–some animals cost me up to $10,000 USD—they are all legal. They weren't easy to get. I abide by the rules. The rules are firm. The dead animal is sent to the taxidermist, but it could take up to three years, sometimes five. When we have it in a container, we need to apply for another permit. And then you can finally have it shipped.
I really have to emphasize that we only shoot old male animals. You can't just shoot any animal you see. Especially the elephants and rhinos. Then you'll end up in jail.