Preserving Nature’s Beauty: A Beginner’s Handbook on How to Learn Taxidermy

S. Disha
S. Disha Guide
18 Min Read
By Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Taxidermy has seen a spike in recent years as pet parents find it a way to preserve and remember their pets. It has also been popular as it allows us to understand the species of various animals more. With the rise in taxidermy, here are some tips on how to learn it.

In this article, we will learn about this fascinating topic, its importance on a global scale, and how to understand the scientific art of taxidermy. As taxidermy1 is slowly fading away, we will learn some legal sides, too. We will explore taxidermy more, with its pros and cons, so let’s dive in!

1. What is Taxidermy?

Taxidermy is the art of stuffing animals in a life-like manner to help preserve and study them. The history of taxidermy has been recorded since the period of ancient Egyptians.

Taxidermy for beginners – a lesson in how to stuff animals

It was to stuff the royal animals/pets that were to be buried with their pharaoh, which is an interesting take on how they used oils, injections, and many spices, too! With or without realizing it, they are the earliest recorded taxidermists in the history of scientific animal preservation. 

Though taxidermy is mainly known for the preservation of animal skin or as decorations, one should also realize how it teaches us about the various other species we share our planet with. Studying these specimens and their types gives us a whole new perspective on the other inhabiting animals.

The National History Museum is a great place to explore taxidermy. They have a separate website for interested individuals who aspire to be taxidermists, and the National History Museum is an excellent start to understanding taxidermy.

Taxidermy began and is still being practiced for the same reason: wildlife study and preservation, with the display being an additional point.

The oldest proof of taxidermy still showcased is a crocodile in Santa Maria Annunziata, Italy. If taxidermed animals are maintained in the optimum conditions, they can last up to 50 years or more.

If not maintained properly, they will last up to 20 years at the maximum. Some museums take great care when it comes to their display of taxidermy pieces, especially ones that tend to degrade early. 

1.1 Importance of Taxidermy

Taxidermy is a craft that allows us to expand our knowledge, especially with animal and wildlife conservation crises, to understand their significance and impact on our environment. Taxidermy also informs us about how we were and are never alone in this world, as most states consider this culturally significant. 

The taxidermy techniques also include preserving insects of many kinds, and this is also an area of interest for insect collectors and enthusiasts who keep track of found insects. It is fascinating!

Interest in taxidermy dates back to the mid-1500s and is still being practiced widely worldwide. Still, we should consider its ethical, safety, legal, and personal considerations to understand how and why it is done.

The importance of taxidermy saw a dip in the mid-1900s but rose again in the early 2000s with the push from fashion shows and walks. That is when taxidermy became popular again.

What is Taxidermy?

Ethical taxidermy is when a creature does not die due to hunting; its body is preserved after it dies of natural causes. The most important lesson a taxidermist should learn is to understand the specimens. We will use taxidermy for actual knowledge and as hobbies rather than focusing on the display aspects. 

“When is it considered a part of ethical taxidermy?’, you may wonder. There are many other ways than their demise being a result of poaching or hunting for their hide, and one of them is finding their bodies on the roads.

Some different methods can be if an animal died of a particular disease or due to old age. Taxidermists need to be very observant here.

The ethical aspect is essential, especially for a beginner in this career field, as in this way, you can honor and respect the animal, even in its death. Hence, ethical taxidermy is considered for preserving species, particularly pets

Taxidermy

Though taxidermy is considered a hobby for the elderly, there is a spike in the number of youth practicing it or interested in doing so; they should consider the ethical considerations taxidermy requires. 

2.1 The Legalities of Taxidermy

As many wonder if taxidermy is still considered legal, there are many countries where the art of taxidermy is considered lawful. But, it is considered illegal in most states if the creatures have been poached or killed out of the legal system. Under this comes the criminal trade systems for customers willing to purchase skins at a much lower rate.

When seeing through the laws of many countries, it is safe to say that taxidermy is permitted only if the ethics have been followed, some wildlife preservation lists are kept in mind, and the animal was acquired without illegal activities.

The legalities of taxidermy are pretty much the same throughout the world, though there are no highlighted ones. They usually come under the wildlife conservation acts of each country as a subsection. 

One should apply for a license in taxidermy as soon as they are done with their course, or the timing they deem fit, to avoid conflicts in the paperwork, and can start practicing the craft as a profession immediately. 

3. What Are The Required Skills?

Here are some of the skills that will help you be a professional taxidermist:

  1. If you are interested in the taxidermy industry, you must pay keen attention to details and notice even when a small stitch is out. This includes good painting, brushing, and stuffing techniques. They assist in providing the best result for the taxidermied creature. Watching is more important than learning the theory.
  2. The second required skill is understanding the anatomies and structures of the many specimens like fish, birds, and insects, not only deer and stags. This way, it will be easier to pay attention to detail and will also assist in creating artificial body parts for the missing pieces. 
  3. You should know the different methods of disinfecting animal hides and insect bodies. This is crucial as it requires harsh cleaning without destroying the skin and keeping yourself safe and infection-free. 
  4. One must have the ability to be patient and concentrate intensely for an extended period. This skill decides how the result will come out, including coordination skills (especially hand-eye coordination) to achieve the best replication.
  5.  When thinking about marketing, good communication, persuasion, and problem-solving skills. And you should be able to sell the products. This is what makes one a successful taxidermist. Aside from the money matters, communicating correctly is equally vital in the taxidermy business. The money will follow soon as you improve and your expertise grows.

Taxidermy for beginners – a lesson in how to stuff animals

4. Learning Taxidermy

One of the best ways to be a trainee under a local taxidermist is directly. You may start as a booking assistant or a person on the counter, but building the skills required to be a taxidermy practitioner will be helpful.

This is the most recommended method to gain experience in this field, as you will be able to grasp concepts and be able to apply them, too, in the form of practice practically. 

It will be hard to find a practicing teacher at your availability and based on your classes and their duration. There are not many experienced taxidermists, so this will be pretty hard.

So, while searching, you can go through taxidermy books with photos and learn more! Mounting is a topic that can be learned from a thorough reading of previous taxidermy creations and is crucial for an individual considering taxidermy as a full-time career.

4.1 So, How To Learn It?

The first step is to consider online classes for a more flexible schedule. In this generation of online learning, some applications and websites provide courses on modern taxidermy, including videos for tutorials.

So, you can cultivate the hobby while just sitting at home! However, one major disadvantage is that you may not be able to concentrate fully on the taxidermy concepts, making it difficult to practice the process.

One point to remember is to find authentic courses that give guarantees and provide a completion certificate, making it easier to avoid legal conflicts in the paperwork. And the fewer conflicts in paperwork, the faster you can be a licensed taxidermist.

The abovementioned methods are the most preferred ways to become a certified taxidermist. It is important to note that authenticity is very crucial. Always be sure that the practice of learning is legal and ethical and will not clash with other schedules and important meetings. 

More or less, the focus will be on gaining permits and licenses to practice taxidermy as a professional. Hence, keeping documents and proofs in hand is necessary. 

Taxidermy: How to Do It

5. Devices Required

To know how to learn how to be a taxidermist, here are a list of a few tools that will be required:

  1. Taxidermy knives for the cutting and stuffing.
  2. Various types of scissors and shears.
  3. Tools for mounting and preserving. Creating mounts is not an easy task. Hence, separate tools for mounting are considered to shape the hide in a particular way.
  4. Taxidermy dryers.
  5. Equipment for shaping, modeling, and stuffing.
  6. A variety of needles with different tips, sharpness, and sizes. Even shapes. 
  7. Paints for covering up scars, blemishes, and uneven colors. 
  8. Variety of chemicals for disinfecting and cleaning. (like arsenic)
  9. Stuffing materials. And for this, you will need lots and lots of cotton!

Working with these tools will be easier in the later days of pursuing this hobby. Every taxidermist needs to have a kit that contains some of the major equipment that has been mentioned.

The kit is a significant need for a professional taxidermist or even a beginner who is just interested in the idea of it.

6. Pros and Cons of Taxidermy:

With taxidermy gaining a spike in interest and many considering it as a career option, we need to know about some advantages and disadvantages to help us focus on the many perspectives of taxidermy.

6.1 Let Us Start With the Pros of Taxidermy:

  1. As mentioned above, the primary purpose of taxidermy is to preserve the animal in its near-natural form to understand it for educational purposes. This is the most crucial advantage of the art of taxidermy, and it can be used for studying the anatomy of species like fish, insects, and birds, too.
  2. Taxidermy is a particular decision by parents to preserve their pet’s body after its death as a sign of honor, remembrance, and love. This has become a recent practice and has proven to be widely popular.
  3. One of its most common purposes is for display and decorative use. Especially in places above fireplaces and blank areas between hung paintings. 
  4. Another important aspect is that taxidermy raises awareness of how we are not the only specimens on this Earth and why wildlife conservation is crucial. 

What It Takes To Be A Taxidermist

6.2 And With the Con’s

  1. While a taxidermist performs on an organism, we must be cautious in the chemicals we use and their reaction upon contact with various surfaces. 
  2. While learning how to taxidermy, we know the substances we may be allergic to and will leave long-term or short-term side effects. Continuing the previous, we should take the utmost care of our health. The quality of the skin can also cause a reaction.
  3. When having kids at home, the taxidermied creatures tend to look frightening and can scar the kid’s mind. 
  4. The taxidermy organisms are challenging to maintain and require constant care and cleaning. They are mostly made of organic matter, so they will rot within 20 years if not cared for carefully. As taxidermists, this point is critical to remember.
  5. Taxidermy, when unethical, can seem very cruel. Especially as taxidermy is for decorative purposes, the animals are usually hunted or poached for it, hence seeming very sad. 
  6. And lastly, taxidermy is said to have conflicting opinions as we do not know where the skins come from. When performing taxidermy on snakes’ bodies, the precautions taken for venomous animals should increase twofold. 
  7. The process of taxidermy is not for the weak-hearted either. Hence, it may be difficult to perform taxidermy on creatures, especially deer, and to mount it.

We have discussed some factual advantages and disadvantages, which will help better understand the profession. It would be best to spend a specific amount of time understanding taxidermy techniques by studying their dos and don’ts.

Asian Ibex shoulder mount... part 1 of 2.... Art of Taxidermy.

7. Safety Measures

Now, we have come to the most essential part of the article, which is to inform you of the safety risks taxidermy can pose. To learn taxidermy, one must know that it involves using many chemicals, as mentioned above, while some can be very harmful to the skin. 

And if not, in extreme cases, they can cause allergic reactions, leading to rashes and pus formations. Some chemicals that are used are Arsenic, Formalin, and Borax. The allergic responses also include those of the creatures’ skins, especially the quality of it.

Another one is the preventive measures against poisonous animals/insects, like snakes, certain insects, and more. Even certain butterflies are considered toxic. 

Taxidermy is considered a dangerous art, as it involves taxidermists touching material that can cause severe damage or reactions, so one should take critical care while practicing it.

And, as it has many high-risk factors, you will need to research the materials and chemicals used and their effects when they come in contact with your type of skin.

8. Conclusion

Taxidermy is a comparatively recent art of preserving specimens, especially the fish and bird type of taxidermy. Here, we have seen the importance, impact, pros and cons, how to learn the art and craft with tips, the required skills and tools for perfecting the art, and the measures to be taken. 

As time progressed, taxidermy’s value saw a lot of ups and downs. This period is advantageous for this art of collection and specimen preservation, as this is when the art has been seen honoring pets more respectfully. And with this, the importance of being a taxidermist is being recognized.

Taxidermy is not easy; hence, it requires a lot of determination, passion, and detailing. This guide on taxidermy is curated for those individuals who would like to understand the world of organisms.

  1. O’Key, Dominic. “Why look at taxidermy animals? Exhibiting, curating and mourning the Sixth Mass Extinction Event.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 27.6 (2021): 635-653. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sanjana

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