Where do your animals come from?
Ethics in taxidermy are nothing new, but the laws, culture, and attitudes around them have changed over time. As ethics are subjective, and ever evolving, this space is dedicated to how and where I obtain the animals in my work. A lack of education and awareness has given taxidermy and taxidermists a bad reputation, but like any industry, learning from collective experience over time informs our knowledge and sensitivity. Reputable taxidermists, young and old, traditional and alternative, take great care and pride in sourcing. What is written here is my own philosophy on sourcing, based on what I have learned over my years working in this field.
Most of animals used in my work are naturally deceased. This means they have died of old age, sickness, or other ways that animals die that do not involve human handiwork or intention. Other naturally deceased specimen come from reputable breeders of such animals, or farms, zoos, and aviaries. In most cases, my purchase of these specimens goes towards providing veterinary care for the living animals at these institutions, or towards educational and conservation projects.
Some animals used in my work are by-products from sustainable farming. This includes pet-food producers, who raises animals such as mice, rabbits, and small birds to be sold as whole frozen meat to be fed to carnivorous animals (if you are wondering what on earth eats whole rodents, think of pet snakes or non releasable birds of prey. If I ever purchase an animal that is suitable for consumption, nothing will go to waste-my cats are huge fans of rabbit and quail!). The animals I use are the ones that would otherwise be thrown away if unsold. Some farms also experience the unfortunate case of stillborn animals, or animals that were not viable to survive despite extensive medical care. I also get animals from other taxidermists who do not want certain specimens (because they are retiring, closing their businesses, downsizing, or a number of other reasons). Others come from abatement work, usually done as part of conservation programs to remove invasive species encroaching on the habitat of native species. These animals would be harvested and remains destroyed if not used otherwise.
Although I may not be a hunter, I have met many of them who love nature, and have driven effective conservation initiatives where responsible practices promote environmental stewardship, manage invasive species, and fundraise to keep wild land as untouched as possible. Contrary to popular belief, hunting for meat can be done sustainably, and is much less wasteful than factory farming (it is the most local, free range, and organic that meat can be). The US has many groups advocating for environmental welfare, with science based laws that help control seasonality, limits on how many animals one can harvest, and following best practices for keeping the land clean and unpolluted. Though there are groups trying to weaken these laws, responsible wildlife management with a sensitive approach has helped many species thrive, including the money raised by the purchase of outdoorsman licenses. It may seem odd that we need an economic incentive for maintaining biodiversity and stopping habitat loss, but it is one of the unfortunate realities of our modern world. (Many people ask if I eat meat myself, and the answer is not very often, and only if I can verify its source and conditions.)
Some people are in awe at the number of animals that I am able to find-part of it is from years of building relationships with those who trust me enough to respect their deceased, part of it is from death being as much a part of life as living. Especially in a big city, we are very removed from the reality of death and the extent of animal products in everyday things like cell phone processors. Animals die more often than we think, and though I work with death, it does not bring me joy. What I am reverent of is how delicate life is, and my ability to help an animal have a second life for us to enjoy its beauty, to inspire us to live mindfully in order to conserve what we can.
What I have written here is only to explain my process for those who are interested, and not to place judgement on anyone that may do or feel differently. Everyone does what they feel is right, and I have no interest in being a judge. Sensational news media does not always include these points in their coverage of taxidermy art (or anything, for that matter!). In appealing to the ever shortening attention spans of readers, it is disappointing that certain outlets choose to use their clout to conjure a story that preys on human emotion and faux outrage to gain ratings and traffic as opposed to honestly reporting the truth to educate the curious.
I hope this has helped you understand how animals are sourced. And if you have any questions, for myself or another artist, please remember it is always better to ask than to assume. As a human being, I'm always growing, changing, and learning, so these ethics are an ever evolving thing.
Thanks for taking the time to read!