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Vegetarian taxidermists: How does that work?

A whole lot of vegetarians have been signing up for taxidermy courses. But how does that work? Being vegetarian and doing taxidermy do not seem like compatible lifestyle choices. Or are they?

I’ll be blatantly honest. I love eating meat. But for 13 years and until last September, I was a very strict vegetarian. If meat had so much as come within a few inches of my food, there was no way I would touch it.

SHannon Harmon RatStarting taxidermy well before I started eating meat again, however, didn’t really bother me. It seemed like an obvious lifestyle choice. Having been a vet nurse in the past and seeing the insides (albeit of alive) animals, I was used to the ‘ick factor’. The vegetarianism came from a love of animals and a hatred for the way the meat industry works (both of which I still have). Taxidermy came from a similar place which I think is very true to why so many vegetarians take these courses.

First of all, cutting up a dead animal does NOT mean you have to eat the insides.

Many vegetarians learning taxidermy will make it very clear that the animals they work on must not be killed for the purpose of taxidermy (as I do).  Many see it as an opportunity, however, to preserve nature or make something creative out of what is normally wasted.

Angela Wooi, an artist and vegetarian I recently taught, told me, ”If I taxidermy, say a pheasant, rabbit, or squirrel, and someone wanted to eat it, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. In fact, I would find that respectful of the animal. I can’t abide by the ill treatment of animals that are bred just for food. I think the ‘surprise ‘ is that people presume vegetarians would be squeamish around flesh/meat, however I find it easy to separate the two activities. I know that if you handed some of my meat-eating friends a fresh feathered chicken to cook – they’d have more issues than I would over the ‘blood and guts’!”.

Not all vegetarians who try the craft are this liberal in their thinking, but in my opinion if parts of an animal are there, in good shape and just going to waste, then why not use then?

Loving, respecting and an interest in preserving nature is common. Louis Neely commented that “taxidermy to me is being amazed by the anatomy and biology of creatures, and helping them live on after death so we can see and appreciate them”.

Like me, a lot of the people I spoke to had grown up interested in natural history. Visiting museums and seeing how beautiful many animals are that you wouldn’t normally be able to see sparked an appreciation for their beauty, but also an interest and curiosity about how they had been preserved.

This love of animals showed over and over again during my enquiries.

Anna Bob Lawley, another artist and vegetarian said, “I’ve struggled with this dilemma for a while now. People tell me ‘I shouldn’t like it,’ but we can’t help what little things in life bring us joy. I feel that it’s giving the animal a whole new life, to live on forever, a whole new world of love, to be carefully restored, positioned,  and decorated, and is a caring and thoughtful venture.”

Taxidermy is also a very personal work of art to most. And while sometimes it causes a dilemma because it can be more of a reflection on a person’s creativity than actual nature itself (such as in anthropomorphic taxidermy), I dont think that makes it something vegetarians should have to steer clear of. The fact that most taxidermists source animals ethically helps this dilemma.

Jessica Lay commented, “I feel that ethically sourced animals being used for taxidermy is positive, and as such, I can happily continue both my vegetarianism and my long-term interest in taxidermy. I hear that a lot of modern taxidermists only use animals that have died through natural causes or mishaps, so I think we are in new age of ‘ethical’ taxidermy. I am happy to be a part of it!”

I think about this very often, and whether being a vegetarian taxidermist is a cliche. I don’t think it has to be. It makes sense. Each individual chooses their own level of comfort within it.

I can’t say that my switch from vegetarian to meat-eater had nothing to do with my ventures in taxidermy. Although it is slightly more complicated than just that.

Once I started handling meat myself, I became much more comfortable with the idea of it and decided I wanted to try it again and started eating it myself.

I’m now working on a project about buying animals that were killed for the purpose of meat eating, but taxidermying them as well as having a feast. The vegetarians will not be forgotten on this though, and there will be an option for those who want to learn taxidermy, but not waste the whole animal.

What are your thoughts?

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2 comments on “Vegetarian taxidermists: How does that work?

  1. Wow! This is great. I have been living with the tension of taxidermy and vegetarianism for a while. My grandfather was a veterinarian and taxidermist, my father a nurse and taxidermist, and I’m a CPA and taxidermist who has become vegetarian for ethical reasons. Many of my friends find being a taxidermist and a vegetarian to be contradictory but in my mind I am simply utilazing parts of the animal a hunter would throw away otherwise. I am still trying to figure it out but I was so happy to stumble upon this article and know that I am not alone! Many thanks.

  2. Thank you for writing this post. My mind has been going back and forth about how my ethics and growing interest in taxidermy are constantly conflicting with each other. These thoughts mostly come about when trying to explain to some confused friends and family members why I would do taxidermy.

    After being vegetarian for 8 years and only a few months ago becoming vegan, I recently did a taxidermy course. Some of the animals that are sourced are from pest control which I find sad but in terms of conservation I understand why it is done. Like you I worked in a vets, studied animal care and volunteer at my local wildlife rescue and rehab centre, so I’m used to the messy and gory parts that comes along with caring for animals. I have always had an appreciation and interest in nature and the anatomy of animals, which is mainly the reasons I wanted to do taxidermy (Also for artistic/creative purposes).
    What you have written is a real inspiration and to eco the last reader’s comment “I am not alone!”

    Would love to see the project you are working on, hope you share it :)

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