TAXIDERMY & SUSTAINABILITY

When I embarked on my journey into the taxidermy industry in 2012, specimen sourcing and acquisition was a hot-button issue and the term "ethical taxidermy" was a buzzword. I didn't like the way that the ambiguity of "ethical" left the meaning to be interpreted - for, as we all know, ethics are subjective and no two people adhere to the exact same code of ethics. While most people would agree that Gandhi was more ethical than Hitler, the truth is that each man had their own sets of morals and ethics and technically speaking, if they followed their own code of ethics both were considered to be "ethical."

I began using the term "sustainable taxidermy" to describe my own work sometime in 2013, when I began to find that clients and students were very concerned with the sourcing of specimens. Since then, these views have been adopted by many taxidermists (and a few have even plagiarized from my writing here and on my blog) but at least transparency is becoming more prevalent and less people are just slapping a label on their work like "ethical" or "cruelty-free." I have covered different sources for my own specimens in the original content of this page, archived below.

Where do you get your animals? There are a few different sources for animals in my work.

  • Veterinarians. A good friend of mine is a veterinarian technician, and she donates animals unclaimed by their owners who have passed away at her office, as well as strays who are not able to be rehabilitated. Please keep in mind that in the United States, the sale or purchase of any dog or cat skin/fur "product" is federally prohibited and I do not sell any of this work, it is strictly for practice.
  • Hunters. One of my college buddies hunts squirrels to feed his family. I use the skins and then pack the meat back up and ship it home to him. Eating squirrels may sound weird but I've heard it's delicious. To each their own! If I did not use the skins he would throw them away as waste.
  • Pet stores. Sometimes animals pass away and usually they are just thrown in the garbage. A few local mom-and-pop stores let me have their casualties. Luckily, this doesn't happen often!
  • Reptile feeder suppliers. In zoos, animals like rabbits, rats, and guinea pigs are fed to large reptiles and amphibians. In the digestion process, the skin and fur is destroyed and has no nutritional value. I purchase the same types of animals from the same supplier that caters to zoos. The skins are used in class. The animals are euthanized humanely and shipped to me frozen. Students are welcomed to take home the rest of the carcass to clean the bones for their collections and feed the meat to their pets. Any unclaimed carcasses will be frozen and taken to a wildlife center in southeastern Wisconsin to feed their raptors. (No, not the dinosaurs!) Did you know you can give a dog a (for lack of a better term) rabbit popsicle and they'll eat it whole? Read about it in this forum for dog owners whose pets eat raw diets.
  • Animal control. In the regions surrounding Chicago, certain animals cannot be re-released if they are trapped as pests, due to risks of parasites and diseases like rabies. They are euthanized and either cremated or donated to The Niche Lab, where we use their remains for educational purposes.

ALL of my specimens are legally obtained. I do not violate ANY regional, state, or federal laws in regards to animals and usage of their parts. I do not support anyone who does violate those laws, because they are in place to protect the animals. Roadkill is not legal to pick up without a special salvaging permit, because a vehicle is NOT a legal weapon with which to hunt or kill an animal. (Could you imagine if it were? Yeesh!) Picking up wildlife that has not been harvested in a legal manner is considered to be poaching and you will be seen as a poacher in the eyes of the law. Don't be a poacher!

Being honest and transparent is my number-one priority when it comes to sources. I do not condone animal cruelty or the slaughter of animals simply for the purposes of taxidermy. All usable parts are, well, used. Anything that isn't is respectfully buried. I know where, when, and how each of my animals has passed away, which is more than can be said for many other taxidermists who teach classes similar to mine. "Ethical taxidermy" is something that has become really popular lately but is ill-defined and kind of a label people are slapping on their work/classes, kind of how food is labeled as having "natural" flavors… but if it's natural, why not say what the ingredients actually are? I consider my own work to be sustainable taxidermy, which I define as the following: no animals are ever killed for the sake of taxidermy or art or trophy. The skin is used for educational purposes. The skull and bones are either used for teaching collections in schools or ground into bone meal (a special kind of fertilizer) and the organs and meat are used for feeding other animals when possible. The meat is used for human or animal consumption. Bottom line, nothing goes to waste. "Ethical taxidermy" is a label so often used by taxidermists that are not ethical, nor are they honest with their clients about where their animals are coming from. I am dedicated to making sure each aspect of my specimen acquisition is out in the open because there's no reason to lie about it, especially when it literally comes down to the life or death of an animal. If you have read through this entire page and are still feeling a bit iffy about the fact that taxidermy utilizes dead animals, then taxidermy is probably not the right craft for you and you might not want to take my class - which is fine and does not offend me!

Mickey Alice Kwapis is a Chicago-based taxidermist and craftswoman.
All site content ©2011-2017 Mickey Alice Kwapis and Niche Lab LLC.
Logo design by Kira Crugnale. Portraits by Alicia Brianne.

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