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What is Taxidermy?

Have you ever seen 10-point trophy mounted on an avid hunter’s wall? Or a marlin mounted in a thrill seeker’s office? Or a beloved deceased family pet proudly displayed on a fireplace mantle? Or a lifelike stuffed animal in a museum exhibit?

These are all examples of taxidermy. The art of taxidermy involves preserving deceased animals so they look as lifelike and realistic as the day they died.

There are a number of reasons why an animal might be preserved using taxidermy. One of the most well known reasons is to preserve a hunting trophy. Hunters will often have their best and most beautiful accomplishments mounted, for example, so they can enjoy them for years to come. Former pet owners can also have their pets with them long after they die because of taxidermy, and museums can present lifelike exhibits to visitors.

Although some may refer to taxidermied animals as “stuffed”, this is actually a misconception. Taxidermied animals are not stuffed, but mounted. The skin is removed and preserved before being stretched across a rigid form shaped like the animal. Some parts of the animals, particularly the eyes, must be created from synthetic materials in order to prevent decomposition of the soft tissue.

What Does a Taxidermist Do?

A taxidermist creates preserves deceased animals by creating realistic models from their skin. Because of this, a taxidermist must have a strong stomach and be able to handle seeing the internal parts of an animal, including the muscle tissue and entrails.

One of the most important items that a taxidermist needs is a deceased animal carcass. Some taxidermists obtain these by euthanizing or otherwise dispatching the animal in a legal manner. Other taxidermists, however, only preserve animals that others have killed.

Removing the animal’s skin is the first step in the taxidermy process. This is usually done by making well placed incisions in certain areas of the animal’s skin. Tools like knives, scalpels, and scissors are used for this. The skin must then be pulled off of the animal very carefully, as to not damage it.

Due to its tendency to rot and deteriorate quickly, the animal’s skin must be cleaned, softened, and preserved. This is usually done by soaking it in special chemicals and salt. It is then usually air dried before being placed on the form.

The form is a rigid sculpture that the skin is placed over. Depending on the type of animal and the desired look, forms can be in nearly any shape, size, or pose. Most taxidermists choose to use forms that are in realistic poses. A taxidermist can purchase pre-made forms, or he can make his own. These forms can be made with several different methods. They can be sculpted with clay over wire framing, for instance, or they can be carved from lightweight materials, like wood of foam. Some taxidermist may even make plaster casts of the skinless carcasses and use these as molds.

Once the form is ready, a taxidermist will then stretch the skin onto it. This can be somewhat tricky, and a great deal of maneuvering is usually necessary. When the taxidermist is happy with the positioning of the skin, he can then attach it to the form with staples, glue, or thread.

After the skin has been mounted, the final touches are then added. Certain parts of an animal, like the ears or lips, may need to be created or reinforced with special clay, for instance. Paint might also be necessary to restore some color. Also, glass or acrylic eyes are also used, and other small details, like teeth and claws, are added.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Successful Taxidermy Career?

A taxidermist is an artist, employing different art techniques, so a well-rounded art education is usually very helpful when pursuing a taxidermy career. Sculpting, painting, and sewing are typically the most used art skills in taxidermy, so aspiring taxidermists should consider earning degrees in one or all of these areas. A good knowledge and understanding of anatomy is also required.

In order to become a professional taxidermist, many individuals interested in a taxidermy career will also need to take a special certification program as well, which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year to complete. Shorter taxidermy workshops are also available.

Aspiring taxidermists who are looking to start their taxidermy careers doing museum work should also earn a degree in museum studies.

Where Does a Taxidermist Work?

Individuals who are just starting their taxidermy careers will often start by working in an established taxidermy shop. Under the watchful eyes of other – more experienced – professionals new taxidermists can gain valuable experience and fine tune their skills.

As taxidermists gain more experience, many will choose to go into business for themselves. This means that they open taxidermy shops or even working from their own homes.

Some museums might also hire individuals with taxidermy skills.

What is the Average Salary for a Taxidermist?

The average annual salary of a taxidermist can be very difficult to predict. Figures such as these are often determined on the price of a taxidermist’s service, along with his talent, and his location. Obviously, more talented taxidermists will be able to command a higher fee, for example, and taxidermists with fair prices will also usually get more business.

Taxidermists typically get paid per animal they mount. Depending on the size and species of animal, taxidermists can charge anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. A taxidermist who specializes in unusual poses or other specialties will usually charge extra.

Despite the seemingly high prices, taxidermy is a type of business that involves high costs. On top of that, taxidermists in most regions only get a small amount of business at certain times of the year, particularly hunting seasons. According to SimplyHired.com, the average salary of a taxidermist in 2012 was $19,000 per year.

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