The first species of shark that I ever saw in person was a leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata). It was at The Nature Store in the Pougkeepsie Galleria in New York. This was in the early-mid 90’s and the place is probably shut down by now. The Nature Store was as much a museum as it was a conventional store, it was fun to explore but you could also potentially buy what you were looking at. I still have a fossil bison tooth and stingray mouth plate that I bought there. Also within the store there was an aquarium and in that aquarium there was a leopard shark. It was a nice aquarium too, large and set within a faux rock wall at the back of the store. I visited the store often and always took a few moments to watch my leopard shark casually swimming about. As such I hold a special fondness for the species, and the Safari leopard shark is one of the first extant animal toys I ever bought as an adult collector, a reminder of the awe I felt watching this living shark swimming about, in a mall of all places.
The Safari leopard shark is dated 2007 but is still in production and widely available. It measures 5.43” (13.7 cm) in length. Actual leopard sharks are small, averaging about 4.9’ (1.4 meters) and so this toy is about 1/10 in scale. The leopard shark belongs to the Triakdae or houndshark family and is one of five species in its genus, some of which look similar, like the banded houndshark (T. scyllium), but none are quite as striking.
The leopard shark is a handsome species, with dark colored saddles and spots along a tan or silver body color. This distinctive appearance coupled with a small size and easy going nature make leopard sharks popular display animals in all manner of establishments. The Safari shark displays the vivid patterns and colors quite nicely, with a tan base color, pale underside, and the darker spots and saddles. The brush strokes on the hand painted saddles are a bit obvious in places but that’s the only real criticism I can muster up.
This is an elegant little figure, sweeping its tail gently towards the left with the head looking rightwards. The mouth is closed and two flaps of skin can be seen next to the nares. Five gill slits are present and the toy represents a female shark as it lack claspers. The shark is an accurate representation of the species with oval shaped eyes, a short and broad snout, large second dorsal fin, and long, notched, upper lobe on the caudal fin to highlight but a few characteristics.
Even though it is going on 15 years of age this toy shark is holding up quite well. As of this writing it is still the only mass produced and easily attainable leopard shark of decent quality available. Safari has another leopard shark from 1996 but I’m not aware of any from the other major collectible animal manufacturers. Although it would be nice to get a newer interpretation this one is still worth seeking out.