What does a taxidermist do?
Taxidermists preserve animal’s bodies for the purpose of display or study. They do this by constructing a model of the animal’s body, preserving its skin and stretching the skin over the model.
In order to produce a natural-looking reconstruction they:
- Study the natural pose of the animal
- Use a variety of materials to construct the framework, including wood, plastic and fibreglass, as well as steel rods, polyurethane foam and papier-mâché
- Use special techniques to skin the animal, and then clean and preserve the skin (a process known as tanning)
- Fit and sew the skin over the framework, including any fur or feathers
- Add teeth, claws or eyes where necessary
- Arrange the specimen in a mount
Fish and reptiles require different techniques, such as making a silicon rubber mould lined with fibreglass. The scales are then painted on, whilst the fins are made separately and attached separately.
Part of the work can also involve making a natural backdrop for the animal, perhaps for a museum, and for this taxidermists need a good understanding of animal habitats.
Taxidermists are sometimes employed by museums, in which case they may deal with enquiries from the public. This might also include education work, such as helping children and adults to benefit from the exhibits. Taxidermists also work for private organisations or run their own businesses.
The job also involves some administrative tasks – details of the scientific name of the species, its habitat and the details of acquisition must be properly recorded. It is also important for the taxidermist to provide evidence of how legally protected animals died.
The law requires that all taxidermists are properly registered, and they are also inspected to ensure that they comply with government regulations about the collection, preservation and sale of specimens.
You’ll need to show:
- the ability to work well with your hands
- to be thorough and pay attention to detail
- design skills and knowledge
- the ability to work on your own
- persistence and determination
- business development skills
- customer service skills
- the ability to come up with new ways of doing things
- to be able to use a range of computer software
Use speaking and listening skills when responding to enquiries from customers or instruction for mounting specimen requirements. Use written skills to produce log book records (a requirement for the licensing of all taxidermists).
Be comfortable using a range of software to complete office admin tasks.
Use number skills to take measurements of specimens. Calculate quantities of materials required or for the correct mixing of preservative chemicals.
Analyse the task to be undertaken, for example to create a coastal display for a museum using specimens of cliff dwelling or wading birds. Plan how best it can be completed and adapt methods, if necessary.
Working with Others
Work with others when necessary or as part of a team and take responsibility for your own work.
- Interest in natural history and wildlife
- Artistic skill
- Manual dexterity and fitness
- Ability to work alone
- Eye for detail
Many taxidermists offer classes and tuition to people interested in learning the craft. Some will offer apprenticeship placements.
You may find it helpful to have experience or qualifications in biology, anatomy or art and design.
Other useful information
Professional and industry bodies
- You could join the Guild of Taxidermists for professional development and to make industry contacts.
- European Taxidermy Championships
- The World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships
- Museums Association
Working as a Taxidermist and Artist since 2007, Jazmine Miles-Long creates taxidermy for both the gallery and museum context, and so her work sits between the realms of art and education. Jazmine’s love of natural history has led her to make work that respects the animal and focusses on the beauty of living things, giving the viewer the chance to explore nature up close.