When people meet me and find out what I do for a living, they very quickly try to find a relatable anecdote or tell me about their collections of taxidermy. I think that's how everyone is, but rather than connecting based on music or art or television, the easiest thing for new acquaintances to grasp onto is my taxidermy work and knowledge. Sometimes I hear about an uncle who hunts, or an interior designer looking for a European mount on velvet, but occasionally I hear about someone’s own taxidermy collection. Today in particular, I got to see photos of a man’s collection of owl, eagle, and hawk wings, feathers, skulls, and skeletons that he found. I’m disgusted.

I’m all for certain things that are illegal. Going ten miles over the speed limit, smoking a joint at a party, poking around in a long-abandoned building where no homeless people have taken shelter - all pretty much fine in my book. Collecting migratory bird parts, especially raptors, is not only illegal but it’s morally unsound. Legally speaking, collection and possession of those parts is poaching and amounts to years or decades in federal prison along with big fines. I uphold all wildlife laws because they’re in place for a reason, and also encourage others to do so. Morally speaking, though, there’s another layer here.

The collecting, display, coveting, etc. of illegal animal parts commodifies them. If you don’t know what that means, essentially once a handful of people start to think something has value, others hop on the bandwagon. It’s like shark fin soup (which is bland and renders the shark dead for a small part) or rhinoceros horn (not an actual aphrodisiac) - commodifying animal parts means people begin to seek out that species and kill it for vanity purposes. While you may think it’s fine to keep a bird skull you found, it becomes coveted and when that “cool” factor affects the wrong person, they begin to hunt and kill protected animals.

After pointing out not only the legal but also the moral implications of the issues at hand (which he was already aware of) and why this man should cease to collect illegal parts of animals, it was like a switch had flipped. I was no longer “adorable” or “amazing” - I was just a bitch with an opinion that didn’t coincide with his fantasy world where it was fine to traipse around and pick up dead and dying birds to display them in his home. I don’t accept that. My education in the natural world has been influenced by work with many museums, zoos, universities, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as well as friends who do wildlife rehabilitation. I’m not out to get anyone - I stand to educate and if me being “bossy” prevents even one protected raptor from becoming a commodity and a hipster decoration, I’m fine with being a “bitch.”

There are probably a few readers wondering what the difference between what I do and what this man is doing actually IS. I work with specimens that are 100% legal - this means that if they were hunted or trapped, they were harvested in season. Feeder animals are raised in abundance by small-time breeders here in Illinois, or Indiana, and are given quality living conditions for the duration of their lives. Domesticated animals like cats and dogs are euthanized after illnesses or accidents, or die of natural causes on their own. When working on birds, it is done so with the blessing of the USFWS and all specimens further scientific research and exploration on everything from evolution to the effects of pesticides on species. I do not work on mounts of protected (illegal) specimens for personal or client use because I respect wildlife laws and I do not believe in commodifying anything that’s protected. Furthermore, even when things are legalized (like the wolf hunts that have been happening the past few years) I still look at population numbers and if presented with work on a specimen with detrimental population statistics, I’d probably turn away the work unless it was a natural death for an educational institution.

To break it down even further and put it into terms that are easier to understand, I’ll talk about human specimens. We tend to understand comparisons to humans better than animals because let’s face it, most people don’t care that much about wildlife. In terms of human beings, I’ll use an example of my friend who works in a mortuary. There are often unclaimed bodies which, after being held for a certain amount of time and then used for scientific research, get cremated and then discarded. Just because these people are being essentially thrown away does not give me a license (figuratively or literally) to harvest bits and pieces of them to decorate my home. Commodifying illegally harvested human body parts is a terrible idea - both legally and morally, it’s not a good choice. Taking parts of protected birds and other animals, even if found dead of natural causes, is no different. The only difference is the type of organism in question.

The TL;DR version: illegal collection of parts of protected organisms is bad, contributes to commodification and poaching, and should be prevented. Also, don't call women "bitches" just because they know more about the law than you, and/or have different morals. I'm quite sure I'm not a bitch for wanting to prevent low-population birds from getting shot to become decorations.

Bone up (heh!) on your wildlife parts laws here or here or here or here. There's no excuse to not follow the law, protect animals, and not be a complete tool - no matter what country you live in.