The Dark Side of Taxidermy
Confessions of a Taxidermist
By: Thomas Engelhart
As blood dripped down my arms, the horror and sheer unimaginable events of the day made me rethink what I had gotten myself into. The blood belonged to that of a full adult male tiger which hung from the ceiling via a large metal hook which had held so many lifeless victims before it. The tiger’s ultimate destiny would be that of being mounted into a permanent pose to be displayed in the trophy room of a multi million dollar home looking much like what Noah’s Ark would look like in a Stephen King novel. It was the last straw of an enlightenment I had experienced with witnessing the truths of big game and trophy hunting.
I had always been interested in taxidermy since I was a young child. I would visit the local museum and was fascinated at getting to see up close and actually touch the claws of beasts like bears and the delicate feathers of birds. As I grew, my fascination with the craft grew and despite never actually becoming a hunter myself, I found myself working in a taxidermy shop. My years of experience there would open my eyes to the atrocities of how some value the worth of an animal’s life.
Many local taxidermy shops you may have in your hometown deal in common game such as foxes, deer, ducks, and fish, but where I worked was like a David Attenborough documentary except for the fact that the animals I would see on a daily basis lacked movement.
International crates would come in every other week containing everything from 20 foot crocodiles to life size giraffe skins. Only the Antarctic continent was spared when it came to what animals we might see rock up at our back garage. Even the most exotic and seemingly endangered species seemed to not be exempt as I would see the lifeless remains of such animals as polar bears, elephants, African wild dogs, and muskox.
The most extraordinary thing was this was all 100% legal. I would learn that almost any animal could be shot with the right permit and a permit seemed available for just about everything if you had enough money. The permit for an elephant at the time was nearly $30,000 U.S. To the wealthy big game hunters that supplied us with work however, it was merely like going out and buying a pair of shoes.
Although I myself never like the idea of killing wildlife myself, I was never really opposed to hunting. It is in our nature as a human to hunt and there are a large amount of hunters out there that do it in a respectful nature. They hunt for food and to feel a sort of attachment to nature and our old ways.
The trophy hunter is a whole different breed. From my experiences, they were generally vulgar, disrespectful, and the furthest thing from a true hunter. I have heard the argument before that the money that is spent for permits and hunts themselves is much needed for conservation and the local communities in which they hunt. I can say via many accounts that this is not exactly the case. Although some benefits including financial may trickle down to conservation efforts, the majority is hoarded by the hunting outfitter service and corrupt governments or officials. And although the meat from hunts may feed hungry villagers, why not allow the tribes to hunt themselves instead of needing the assistance of a wealthy westerner.
To paint a picture of the trophy hunter, imagine eating breakfast with gun in hand as you look down upon feeders set up to attract fenced in deer. The deer’s feed laced with growth hormones in order to produce a record setting rack of antlers. BAM! A life is taken in between bites of eggs and bacon. Get me my prize yells the “hunter” as he hands his empty plate to the staff hands. A few months later he will have the deer’s head hung on his wall having never so much laid his hands on his victim except to maybe pose for a photo to show off his skill to his friends. This is the face of the trophy hunter.
Many of the hunters you would not know by name nor by the sight of their face however the companies they own you will know very well and many if not most of us spend our money in the doors of their businesses daily which indirectly funds the slaughter of animals around the world. You would be shocked to learn just what companies’ founders are responsible for such atrocities.
Whatever claims you may hear of how beneficial and environment caring trophy game hunters really are, they are nearly all false. The truth is elephant feet being turned into garbage cans, baby tigers wrapped in trash bags laying frozen at the bottom of a freezer, squirrels being turned into lifeless characters playing poker, and propped up mounted alligators which hold trays for which only the finest bottles of wine will be served upon. Again this is all somehow legal. What isn’t legal however are the accounts where even the human species is not exempt when it comes to what “game” can be hunted and had as trophies. It happened in the past and believe it or not continues to happen today.
I have even seen crates come in where nearly half of the animal skins, skulls, and other parts were not wanted by the client in the end, so in the large dumpster they would go as processing or cleaning didn’t warrant the high price. Even items such as the dried salt cured ears of elephants would end up in the same place we would toss our garbage at the end of the day.
Many of the “trophies” would never even make it to being hung on the wall as the often elderly hunters would pass away and their respective families had no interest in the items. The killing was therefore even more meaningless if that was even possible. And even when animals are mounted and displayed, after years of being shown off they will eventually deteriorate to the point they are sent to the landfill only to be upgraded by a newly killed individual with a perfect coat of hair.
Sadly trophy hunting will never cease to exist as there is too much money and politics involved. Sickening more is the fact these hunters are treated like superstars within their field and given medals depending on what or what size animal they take down via the skills of a local guide.
The only way to stop the slaughter is to convince the younger generations to not follow in daddy’s footsteps and maybe donate the would be money for a hunting permit directly towards conservation efforts instead. Sadly leaving a respectful legacy doesn’t seem as important to them as leaving a photo showing they ruled and dominated earth’s creatures.
I have since washed my hands literally and figuratively of the blood of animals. I could no longer stand the site of so much unnecessary death and degradation of such magnificent creatures. There is no alternative that will compare to seeing a live animal free in its natural habitat.