It’s funny how you can not realise that taxidermy involves de-gutting animals until you’re faced with a defrosted squirrel. Holding a scalpel with which to make an incision from collar bone to certainly turns your stomach.
My sister, Rosie, and I were at London Taxidermy Academy in Borough on a Saturday morning, excited and feeling rather sick. There were three others – two also doing squirrels and another doing a bird.
Lee starts the session by explaining a bit about what’s going to happen over the weekend. There’s little of the history behind it (apparently the earliest known taxidermy pieces are from the 16th century but really became popular in the 18th & 19th century) and its straight into the details.
(Lee, by the way, is lovely. He’s patient, encouraging and has many interesting stories to tell about his experience with taxidermy. He’s also got another business that creates high end fashion pieces).
Interestingly enough, in Taxidermy:
- It is mainly women who take these classes.
- There is a surprising amount of vegetarians and vegans.
- So far, no one’s been sick or fainted in any of the London Taxidermy Academy classes. Will you be the first?
- The youngest attendee was a lad of 12 who didn’t really like the skinning part, but loved the 2nd day.
- The animals don’t, as I previously thought, die of ‘natural causes’ (I had thought it was strange that enough animals could be ‘found’ to run the sessions). Instead, they are often killed by specialists who have been asked to eradicate them from estates. These specialists then keep the victims of their assassination and sell them on to taxidermy businesses and individuals. They often use trained hawks to kill their prey, leaving them remarkably unblemished (aside from a crushed skull or broken leg here and there).
- You don’t necessarily ‘gut’ the animal, but remove it as a whole. So hopefully no contact with slimy intestines.
- There’s little blood – maybe a little around its face, but due to it being frozen it’s had time to ‘settle’.
How to taxidermy a squirrel in pictures.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
I won’t lie. Taxidermy is traumatic, pungent, brutal, delicate and I loved and hated it. At one point I thought I must be mental. At other times I totally forgot that I was working on a dead animal. I hated the fact my squirrel had a giant willy and maggot eggs on part of his skin. I was sad that this squirrel was cut down in his prime (he looked like he enjoyed life). I got annoyed with myself for being squeamish and taking so long to do everything. I was fascinated by the process and grumpy that I’d made my squirrel rather too chunky but hadn’t filled out his legs enough.
Oh, and I called him Horace.
If you’re thinking of taking a class, here are my tips for taxidermy
- Don’t eat before you attend a session. This goes for heavy drinking sessions the night before too.
- Make sure you have strong smelling hand sanitizer for after the session – dead squirrel stinks. Even though you’ll be wearing gloves, they’ll still smell funny.
- Don’t wear anything too nice. Most likely you’ll drop bits of flesh and membrane on your clothes.
- Have a tissue near by – you may get the urge to sneeze or scratch your nose and it’s not fun walking into normality with dried squirrel gore on your face.
- Take a bottle of water. Taxidermy is thirsty work.
London Taxidermy Academy Details
Rosie and I did the weekend squirrel class.
How much? £200. That’s £100 a day. And well worth it.
Why do this? It’s as stomach-churning as Alton Towers without the long queues.
Where is it? A short walk from London Bridge or Borough
*If you spill the guts, then you’ve actually done something wrong. Or you don’t know your own strength with a scalpel.
** These are just a guideline only. Please don’t kill the local friendly rabbit and have a go at home in your kitchen. Your housemates will disown you.