African Trophy Taxidermy
Your African trophy taxidermy mounts will be in your trophy room or on the walls of your home for many years to come and will invoke all the memories of a great African hunting experience.
Choosing A Taxidermist
You have invested not an inconsiderable amount of effort and money obtaining those trophies. So it should be just as important to get the taxidermy right and pay the same attention to selecting the right taxidermy company as you did with selecting a hunting company.
- Choose your taxidermist carefully before your hunt - at home or in Africa.
- Discuss trophy handling & taxidermy with outfitter before booking the hunt, especially in South Africa.
- If hunting & shipping raw trophies from South Africa, Botswana or Namibia, compare dip & pack prices & services.
A Taxidermist In Africa Or Your Home Country?
If you really care about your trophy mounts, remember that high quality taxidermy of African animals requires more than setting up a standard shoulder mount artistically. It requires much additional knowledge of the animal's habits, habitat and life in the African bush. A taxidermist who has been to Africa, possibly as a hunter himself, will know an awful lot more than one who has never travelled out of state. Take your time and ask about his personal experience of Africa and trophy collection.
If you are going to hunt more uncommon (and more expensive) African animals, you must definitely be satisfied that the taxidermist has enough experience of mounting these animals.
If you are not sure, visit at a few taxidermy studios in your home country who do a lot of African animal taxidermy. Look at taxidermy websites, videos and African hunting forums where hunters often post photos of African trophy taxidermy - compare the look of the mounts, prices and terms of business.
Ask other African hunters about their taxidermy experiences and recommendations. Bear in mind that some hunters will bad-mouth a certain business about a dodgy mount where it really can't be proved any blame really lies with the taxidermist.
- From the out-set, discount all local taxidermists whose work is solely on your countries domestic species. You need an African taxidermy specialist. These taxidermists may prove cheaper and insist they can do African animal work but do you want your leopard looking strangely like a mountain lion or a waterbuck with a muledeer nose?
- You must check the taxidermist's experience with importation and exportation of African trophy taxidermy. Has he done this before? Is he well-versed in all documentation and all regulations on moving animal products? What about their customer service? Will they liaise with you regarding your trophies and your pose instructions, work completion, payment schedule and delivery? Like with any business, do they impress you with their knowledge and professionalism?
- Bear in mind when looking at taxidermy websites, photographs or exhibitions at conventions, that the pieces on show are their best work probably done by the master taxidermist. Your trophies may be delegated to a lesser mortal in the taxidermy company to mount and may not achieve such a high standard of artistry.
- Is cost a major concern? Many hunters feel that is cheaper to import their raw trophies home and get the work done in Africa.
- The cost difference between getting the taxidermy work done in Africa is less that in most other taxidermy studios worldwide. The difference mainly comes with the shipping costs of a large crate of finished trophies.
- Most quality African taxidermists are found in South Africa, so if you are hunting in another country there will be the additional costs of importing the trophies into South Africa.
- Hunters may also feel that they will have better communications with a taxidermist at home and are nervous of doing business with a company in Africa.
- If you are going with a home-grown taxidermist, be aware you will have to pay for the raw trophies to be dipped & packed in Africa. Prices vary a lot for dip & pack and raw trophy export, so you might like to shop around for the best price. In South Africa there are dedicated dip & pack only companies as well as taxidermists that offer the service. See below for more on Dip & Pack.
- Though there are good and bad taxidermists everywhere, it used to be that the best taxidermists for mounting African trophies were to be found in South Africa. Unfortunately this isn't necessarily so anymore. There is now a plethora taxidermists springing up everywhere across South Africa, not all of good quality with experience of international trophy shipping. Do your homework thoroughly even for just dip & pack.
How To Judge African Taxidermy Quality?
This is a little difficult for a first-time African hunter who has never seen an African animal in the wild and the small physical characteristics of an animal close-up which need replicating to make a stunning mount. Even veteran African hunters can be poor observers of animals and knowing no better, are pleased with the sub-standard taxidermy hanging on their walls.
- Some taxidermists seem to specialise in producing 'sanitised' animal mounts which you may or may not like. Eye of the beholder again, but do you really want a lion who looks like it has been blow-dried at a beauty parlour or a steinbok with super shiny black horns?
- When viewing a prospective taxidermist's work, check closely whether the African trophies look anatomically correct. There are some real taxidermy horrors out there, where it's obvious the taxidermist hasn't a clue about the African animal he is trying to represent. Pay particular attention to the mouth and eyes of a shoulder mount, for example. Do they look natural and not popping out, with the correct eye pupil shape for the species. Do the lips correctly look relaxed with the upper one slightly protruding over the lower one or are they in line with each other and the animal looks like it's smiling?
- If you are planning more complex mounts like full mounts of mixed species in a action diorama-like scene, such as a lion leaping up to nail a sable, you really need to be even more careful with your choice of taxidermist. If you care about the look and the accuracy of your trophy taxidermy, you will need a taxidermist with museum quality taxidermy experience with an intimate knowledge of the musculature of African species in these action poses.
- If you are still doubtful about the quality of work a taxidermist, a useful rule of thumb is to look at their African cat mounts. If a taxidermist can produce outstanding African lion and leopard mounts, you can bet your bottom dollar, the rest of his work will be excellent, as cats are always a challenge to get right.
- Do not be too concerned with the length of time it takes to get your trophies finished by a taxidermist. Remember that African trophy taxidermy is an art and good art takes time to produce. Also a reputable taxidermist of quality will be constantly busy and the work is done on a first come, first served basis. If you factor in the time for the raw trophies to move from the skinning shed onwards for dipping, crating, documentation, exporting and importing (either in South Africa or home), it could be over 18 months before you see them.
After Choosing A Taxidermist
- Once you have chosen a taxidermist in your home country, you could arrange for him to supply you with trophy shipping tags to take with you. You will need enough labels to tag every individual trophy part you intend keeping from one animal. For example, one Cape buffalo may possibly need 1 label for the skull and horns, 1 label for the cape skin, 1 label for the back skin, 4 labels for 4 hooves and 1 label for the tail (if not attached to back skin).
- These labels should be indestructable with a secure method of attachment like a ladder strap. They should be indelibly printed with your taxidermist's full address and contact details. They should either be pre-printed with your details or with a sections to complete with the hunters name, outfitter's details, animal type (ie. Cape buffalo) and trophy part (ie. cape skin). The labels must be able withstand all the whole trophy processing without falling off or becoming illegible.
- If you are using a taxidermist in South Africa, check he can send the trophy shipping tags to your outfitter.
- It's not a train smash if your taxidermist labels are not supplied or you run out on the hunt. Your PH will have a supply of blank labels to tag all your trophies - just make sure you know the full name, address and contact details of your taxidermist.
- Try to decide what mounts you would like on the species you are likely to hunt. This need not be cast in stone at this stage but may help with your taxidermy budgeting.
- If you are going to be hunting a CITES Appendix I animal you will need to apply for a CITES Import Permit ahead of the hunt.
Your Trophies After A Wilderness Hunt
- If you have hunted in a wilderness area such as the Selous, Tanzania, your outfitter may move all the trophies out of the skinning shed at the end of the season. Trophies usually need to be moved out by truck and it is more cost effective to do all at once rather than sending out part shipments.
- This may mean if you hunted at the beginning of the season that your trophies will only be ready for export at the end of the year, or even early the following year.
- The trophies are stored until until the export documentation is completed. Export permits are issued after the species listed on the hunting licence correlate with the trophies and the correct Government trophy fees are paid buy the outfitter.
- The raw trophies must also be dipped and packed before being exported.
- Possible delays can occur if documentation is issued incorrectly or weather conditions hold up the movement of trophies out of a remote area.
Your Trophies After A South African Hunt
- If you have hunted in South Africa, your trophies will usually move out of the skinning shed quite promptly after the hunt. They are usually collected or taken to a dip & pack facility or taxidermist.
- Even if you are having your trophies mounted in your home country and will be exporting raw trophies, the raw skins and skulls must be dipped and packed in Africa.
More About Dip & Pack
- Dip & Pack is the minimum process required by Government regulations to sterilize animal parts before an export permit can be issued. It is therefore a requirement for all taxidermy work that will be exported. Only selected veterinarian-approved facilities may perform dip & pack services. In South Africa and Namibia there are some hunt outfitters or game farm owners who have an approved dip & pack facility. You are not obliged to use the dip & pack service on the premises if you prefer to get it done by another company. Check prices before hunting.
- The process includes anti-bacterial and insecticide treatments of skins, cleaning and bleaching skulls, application for trophy export documents and veterinary inspection.
- Dip & pack costs vary enormously. Having not asked about this when booking the hunt, some hunters are very upset when presented with a unexpectedly large dip & pack bill.
- In countries like Tanzania, the dip & pack costs are based on the hunt licence length and are bundled in with all the trophy handling & export costs. As an example, you will pay a set price US$1200 for a 10 day hunt which you should know when booking.
- In South Africa, the dip & pack costs for raw trophies are usually on a per animal basis set by the dip & pack company or taxidermist.
- Should you use a South African taxidermist for all the trophy mounting work, there is no separate dip & pack charge - it is included in overall taxidermy costs.
- Most hunters in South Africa go along with the dip & pack service recommended or used by their outfitter or PH, mostly unaware of the costs involved at the time. You are actually absolutely under no obligation to use the dip & pack service recommended by your PH or outfitter. It is small wonder why some hunters get rather a nasty shock when the final bill arrives with export and shipping costs added - virtually the same cost of another safari in some cases.
- Further to the above point, there are a few South African outfitters with strong business connections to a taxidermist. They go above and beyond just recommending their taxidermist. They will seriously 'strong-arm' a client (while he is there hunting) into using this particular taxidermist, not only for dip & pack but the trophy mounting work too. If they don't succeed in getting the client to agree to using their taxidermist, they will then wash their hands of all trophy responsibility. Not only will this tactic sour your safari experience, you will have to have your own trophy tags, arrange your own dip & pack taxidermist, collection of the trophies from the hunt premises and posssibly incur storage charges if the trophies are not removed by a certain time after the end of the hunt. This behaviour catches out quite a few hunters who have not even thought about their taxidermy, let alone made any arrangements for dip & pack in Africa before the hunt. They are stuck in a hunting camp, near the end of their hunt with this thrown at them. Small wonder they have to agree to what may be very expensive and poor quality taxidermy which will discovered only when they open the crate at home.
- You really must check the dip & pack prices as well as check the quality of the dip & pack customer service. As with most things, the cheapest is not necessarily best - could be your trophies get lost, damaged, inadequately treated and badly packed by an internationally inexperienced taxidermy company. However, you do not need to be fleeced either.
Once You Are Home...
- Send your taxidermist a list of your trophies so he knows what to expect and can compare it with the export documentation received. If there are any discrepancies, they can be dealt with before the consignment leaves the hunt country.
- Once the taxidermist has the contact details of the outfitter or exporter, he can try to expedite the shipment.
- Most taxidermists will require a deposit prior to the importation of the trophies commensurate with the volume of trophies.
- The receipt of this deposit will also usually 'book' your trophies into the taxidermist's production schedule, thus expediting the completion of the work.
- It is recommended that you insure your trophies from the country of export to the country of import.
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African Trophy Taxidermy
Page Updated: Feb 2020