April 13, 2022
I ran across a report in the local newspaper about a taxidermy museum located in a warehoused in Bétera, Spain, which held 1090 animals. While this is an impressive number of animals by itself, this private collection included 405 protected species. The collection includes the scimitar oryx (North African oryx), which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared extinct in the wild, the endangered Bengal tiger, and the critically endangered addax (white antelope). They found specimens of lion, cheetah, leopard, snow leopard, lynx, polar bear, and white rhinoceros. The collection contained crocodile skin chairs, stools made of elephant feet, and 198 ivory elephant tusks. It is the largest discovery of protected taxidermy specimens in Spain and one of the largest in Europe. Spain’s Civil Guard estimates the worth of the collection at 29 million euros (US$31.5 million).
When I looked online, I found taxidermy is the art of preserving an animal’s body by mounting (over an armature) or stuffing, for the purpose of display or study. Animals are often portrayed in a lifelike state. The word taxidermy describes the process of preserving the animal but also to describe the finished product. The word is derived from the Greek taxis (“arrangement”) and derma (“skin”). Taxidermy is practiced primarily on vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and less commonly amphibians) but can be done with larger insects and arachnids. Taxidermy takes several forms including hunting trophies and displays in natural history museums. The museums use taxidermy to record species, including extinct and threatened species, in the form of study skins and life-size mounts. Taxidermy is also used to memorialize pets.
When we go to the local outdoors store, we like to browse the tanks of live fish and view the taxidermy that prowl the walls. I never thought to question whether this was legal. Migratory birds pose the biggest legal challenge for taxidermists. You need a federal permit to mount migratory birds, and the person who owns the bird needs a federal permit to have it in their possession. Larger animals also require a taxidermy permit, and the taxidermists are responsible to make sure the customer had the proper hunting tags, permits, or other documents to determine the animal was lawfully acquired. It is a crime to be in possession of unlawfully obtained animal carcasses. It is also unlawful to transport, ship, or receive an unlawful carcass. Spain has similar laws, and it is illegal to possess many of the animal taxidermy found in the warehouse. The cost of the private collection just went up.
THOUGHTS: Violations of taxidermy law in the US can reach up to $500,000 and two years in jail, depending on the crime, the person or group committing the crime, and the frequency and number of criminal violations. State laws and permits are also required, which makes the burden to stuff something illegally almost insurmountable. Once stuffed, you need a permit to possess the dead migratory bird. You cannot throw the stuffed bird out because the trash service does not have a permit. If you discard the taxidermy in the garbage, you commit a felony. If you sell the mount, it is a felony. Similar laws govern the deer head that spooked you as a child. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.