If you’re observant enough, have you noticed that when you go to museums (even small ones) some specimens were like still-living creatures? They seemed to be not dead at all by just looking at them. And if you’re curious enough you’ll ask “How did they do it?”
Well, the answer is obviously “preservation”, but to be more specific they use a type of preservation which is taxidermy. There are many ways to preserve dead specimens but taxidermy is often used to reproduce a three-dimensional representation of a dead animal for permanent display.
Looking back to the old ages, it was said that the practice of taxidermy wasn’t new. According to a book of Browne Montagu entitled “Practical Taxidermy”, it was practiced by ancient Egyptians in preserving dead human bodies. Egyptians though have not included complete removal of the skin, like what our taxidermy appears to be, yet they are the precursor of its development and deserve to be called the first taxidermists the world has ever known.
The word taxidermy, which with its literal meaning would signify “arrangement of skin” comes in two Greek words, “taxis” (movement) and “derma” (skin).
As the term suggests, the process of taxidermy involves removal of a dead animal’s skin, replacing it with an artificial body, and adjusting the skin until it appears life-like. Basically, only the skin, antlers and scale (if fish) of the animal are kept. And the body of the animal is copied or modeled using foam figurines which becomes the specimen’s artificial body. This is where the skin is attached and arranged until it looks real. But to have a good foam model, accurate measurements of the animal’s parts should be done so it would be more like the animal’s real size.
After the skin is attached to modeled foam, the mounted specimen is then ready for artistic brushes. Parts of the animal are painted with appropriate color tone like the nose, toes and skin, since the colors add realness to the specimen. And after it is all made up and filled with artificial materials the preserved animal is now ready for display.
The complexity of the process involved in taxidermy makes it a difficult and unique practice. And since it incorporates carpentry, woodwork, tanning, molding and casting; the person who practices the craft (taxidermist) are skillful and talented artists.
Like any other profession, taxidermy has a code of ethics that taxidermists should follow. And to clarify, taxidermists had nothing to do with the actual killing of animals. All animals that they use have already died whether the death was caused naturally or by hunting.
Upon interviewing Mr. Arnulfo Armeroda, administrative staff of the Natural History Museum and who is a taxidermist himself confessed that, taxidermy is a difficult job and requires diligence for he has to work on every detail of the specimen. And since dead specimens are used, he added that it is difficult to get away with the foul smell for days.
Taxidermy’s wide use in science through preserving animal species has become very significant in research studies and future references. Example of this are preserved animals found in museum, like the Natural History Museum found at Visayas State University which houses at least 84 specimens preserved through taxidermy.
However, a different approach of the use of taxidermy goes to hunters who preserve dead animals for trophy display. They view it as a way to honor animals and commemorate an impressive hunting expedition.
With all the complexity of the process and different use in both science and belief, taxidermy has but one aim and it is to preserve dead animals in a most artistic way as possible that will make it look real.