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Taxidermy- an introduction

The word “taxidermy” originates from the Greek words ‘taxi’ and ‘derma’ and translates to “the arrangement of skin.” A traditional taxidermist will tan the animal’s hide, removing the flesh and cartilage to preserve the skin and fur, before draping it around a foam body made to look like the animal in real life.

It is a scientific art. Not only do practitioners need to take accurate measurements and photos and make traces of animals that they want to mount but also conduct a study of the anatomy of these animals. The first person to use taxidermy was Louis Dufresne. It began in England as early as the nineteenth century. Tanning; i.e. turning an animal’s skin into preserved leather was becoming very common due to increasing demand for leather and this caused preservation of species possible.

Taxidermy mounts were stuffed with sawdust and rags in the early days giving less regard to anatomy of the animal involved. Today the process has evolved to a point where the artists purchase a mannequin which they sculpt to the position they desire and then the skin of the animal is placed and stitched over it. The first Taxidermy competition was held in 1880. The winning scene was scientifically accurate and it changed the purpose of taxidermy. Taxidermists now aimed for accuracy in their mounts too.

In the earlier days the level of competition among taxidermists was so high that some artists took their taxidermy secrets to their grave as they did not wish to reveal their preservation method to others.

There are two major forms of taxidermy, the specimen which is an exact replica of the animal as it was from the wild and a trophy refers to the mounts that can be hung on walls. Taxidermy competitions have a different variation called Re - Creations where the goal is to create an animal without using any of its actual parts. Say for instance, creating an eagle using turkey feathers.

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