Taxidermy is the art of preserving dead animals, usually bagged in different types of hunting or preserving pet animals for posterity. Preserved animal heads, carcasses or skins are usually found on display in homes, museums, wildlife conservation institutions and so on. It is the taxidermist's job to prepare the dead animals using various specialized tools and chemicals, making moulds for body shapes and treating the animal carcass so that it stays preserved for posterity. Read on to find out how you can become a taxidermist.
Scope of job
- Clean and prepare the dead animal to separate the skin from the body, as also scales, feathers or appendages, depending on whether the full body is to be stuffed or just the head, or the head and shoulders.
- Animal forms which are usually preserved through taxidermy include bear, deer, bison, tigers, birds such as hawks, eagles and game fish such as trout, marlin, etc. Frequently, pet owners also get their dead pets such as dogs and cats, stuffed so that they may be displayed in their place of residence.
- Season and dry the skin using preservative chemicals and then drying it in the open air or in large kilns where heat removes all the moisture from the hide.
- Prepare moulds of the body shape or the part to be stuffed, using clay or plaster-of-Paris and then creating a full-form sculpture or mannequin of the animal. Materials used in creating the sculpture are polyurethane, strong clay or soft plastics or rubber.
- Once the full body sculpture is ready, the skin is placed over the mannequin and stitched or stapled. The stuffed animal is then painted and polished, with eyes, teeth, beaks and claws made of artificial materials added.
- The final part is the mounting or placing of the stuffed animal on to a plaque or wall mount.
This is a job which you can learn by observation and practice, working as an apprentice or assistant to a professional taxidermist. There are numerous training courses and programs available across states, provided that they meet the criteria set by the wildlife preservation authorities.
While there are no minimum formal education requirements for a taxidermist, a high school diploma or GED equivalent is helpful, along with some knowledge and training in different types of sculpture, chemistry, anatomy, drawing or preservation techniques is essential.
Attending an accredited taxidermy school is a must if you wish to pursue taxidermy as a full-time profession. For those who wish to learn taxidermy as a hobby or for non-commercial purposes, avenues for education can include attending taxidermy school or self-study through books, audio or video instructions or training classes at the local community college.
Licensing procedures and criteria vary from state to state and further information can be obtained from the local wildlife or animal welfare administrations. Certification for taxidermists is provided by the National Taxidermists Association (NTA), a professional body instituted in 1972. In addition to providing certification, NTA also conducts taxidermy competitions, where you can gain points which provide eligibility for the different levels of certifications. The certification requirements are as follows:
- Current membership of the NTA,
- Certification is available for any one or all of the following categories: (i) mammals, (ii) birds, (iii) fish, and (iv) reptiles;
- A minimum of 8 points in each category is required to become eligible to submit applications for certification;
- These points must be earned at NTA-sanctioned or approved events at state, regional and national levels, or must be events organized by affiliated international and other taxidermy chapters.
- First-time certification requires a fee of $50 and annual renewal is prescribed at a fee of $20.
- Submit the completed application form along with the prescribed fee to the nearest NTA office. Once approved, the taxidermist will receive the relevant certificates with the period of validity, official emblem for use on stationary, listing in the annual NTA report and news release format for publication in your local newspapers.
Further information on NTA membership, certification and latest updates can be found at nationaltaxidermists.com. With this, you now have all the information required on becoming a taxidermist!