Taxidermy And CITES

'My Experiences With Taxidermy And CITES: The Good And The Bad' by Bob Mitcham

I live in the UK and my experiences are small but I hope will be of use if you are thinking of going or are going to hunt in Africa. To start with taxidermy...I had my trophies mounted in South Africa - why? Before the hunt I researched the subject. I first looked at having any trophies taken mounted in the UK, but because a friend who had his trophies mounted in Africa (and I was getting completely lost), I asked my outfitter for advice. He suggested I look at Life-Form Taxidermy of White River. I looked at their website and found the company had been in business for 30 years and had mounted over 150,000 trophies - I call that a lot of experience. Did I have any doubts? Well, yes. This was really brought home by the Hartmann's zebra I took - he was stunning but would he look the same after mounting? The answer, 12 months later was, yes, in fact all my trophies were fantastic. I've now used Life-Form twice. I'm still waiting for the second lot, 17 months after the hunt. As you might have noticed you won't get your trophies back for about 12 months, if not more. This is not a problem as you spend this time driving everyone mad by talking about your hunt as well as reliving each stalk and shot. Then the trophies turn up, you get them on the wall and guess what, you do it all over again. It's about this time you start planning your next hunt!!

So what else do you need to know? You've chosen the country and concession/ranch and worked out your wish list from the game list. Great, but have you looked at were you are going to hang this wish list when you get them home? My wish list on my first hunt was small, a pretty one, one with horns and an ugly one much to the amusement of my PH. I ended up with 8 heads and my son with 3 heads. When the photographs were being taken the only one that looked big was the kudu but then only in the horn department. It wasn't until 12 months later when they turned up on the doorstep that the problems started. The first problem was the box. I knew from the shipping paperwork, the size of the box. But seeing figures and seeing it in person are two completely different things. My box was 6' long by 4' square - a big box when you've got to unpack it on the road. When you get the lid off, you take a few moments to look at the way your trophies are packed. OK, you are going to have to do this anyway, to figure out how to get them out but it's a work of art.

Taxidermy Box
Taxidermy Crate

The next problem if you, like me, before the hunt would have looked around the house and worked out where each trophy is going to go or where the HCO (Hunting Control Officer) sorry, wife, partner or girlfriend, will let you put them. When your box turns up, you've opened it and removed your trophies. As each one comes out you will get this sinking feeling...oh boy, aren't they big. In my case, because we had to unpack them before it rained, and please remember I am talking about 11 heads, we had filled my 3 ground floor rooms. An even bigger sinking feeling...will they all go on the wall space that I've got. The answer - yes, 6 hours later. Let's have an example - my kudu was an average specimen, 50 inches of horn with a 50 inch spread (OK, that's a big spread).

The problem was that I had him shoulder mounted (the only mount in my mind) so the horns go on top of another 3 feet, so the whole mount is a tad over 5 feet from top to bottom (this will be greater if the horn spread is less with the same length horn) and 3ft deep. My point is not to not hunt kudu, it's fantastic hunting the grey ghost, but to remember it's a big animal when mounted. I have to say, it's your trophy, so you'll find a space for it. As another example, when visiting a friend of mine who lived in an old cottage, you got a heck of a shock halfway up his stairs, when you came face to face, or rather nose to nose, with his kudu. The only question I've been asked, after deciding what mount, was which way did I want it looking. This applied to my gemsbok, which are usually mounted with the head turned slightly to left or right. So when looking at your walls, take this into account. If you have a trophy half mounted as I did with a warthog, you'll be asked in what position you want it mounted.

Trophy Wall
Trophy Wall

Cats, are from the taxidermy point of view, completely different to plains game. It's simple if you want a rug or shoulder mount but a full mount - that is a different proposition. As a full mount can be set in any position, doing anything you want it to, you will have to tell your taxidermist exactly what you want? I went on a leopard hunt in 2007, which I took on the 13th day of a 14-day hunt. Before I went, I looked at all the photographs of leopards I could find, until I found one that I liked. Then after getting back, I emailed the photograph, with others taken after the hunt, to Life-Form. Great, job done. No, he didn't like the pose for several reasons, would I change it? Here was a problem - what should I do? In the end I spent several hours analysing my initial photo, trying to work out what in this photo made it appeal so much. The conclusion was that the head, or rather the way he was looking that was important. So it was back to the drawing board to find the right body pose. This I found and emailed it back. Yes, a combination of both was OK. Then came a series of questions - did I want it looking left or right, what position did I want for the back legs, body and tail? Going back to size a minute, my leopard was mounted reclining on a branch - there is no way I can get a full mounted leopard on it's branch and base into to my trophy room. So I asked the taxidermist if it was possible to flat pack it. This was achieved by making the mount in 3 parts the leopard, branch and base, which could then be re-assembled.

My Leopard
Steve Robinson with my leopard - a big boy or is Steve short?

I thought now, all I've got to do is wait for him to come...wrong! Another question - did I want the mouth open? If yes, how much? As an aid, I was emailed some more photos. To answer this question, I asked advice of both taxidermist and outfitter. Problems solved? No. Now a major problem - the skin in the shoulder area had shrunk, so the shoulder and chest were smaller than in life. This was overcome by letting in a piece of leather, which would not show when on the branch. You can see from this there is a fair amount of communication and decision-making with this type of mount. I'm sorry but I'm unable to put in a photo of him - why? I'm still waiting for him to come 17 months after my hunt.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) - you will have heard of them. I took a Hartmann's zebra in Namibia, this is CITES Appendix II. This was not a problem - all that was required was a CITES export permit from the country of export. I ended up with two, one from Namibia to South Africa and one from South Africa to the UK. No problems - every thing went through without a hitch. My cat - now that's a whole other story. Leopard is CITES Appendix I - in short, endangered. The story, I was told by my outfitter that I needed a preliminary CITES import permit before I could hunt my leopard. My outfitter gave me the application form number. Five minutes on the DEFRA (now called Animal Health, who manage CITES in the UK) website got me a copy. That as it turned out, was the easy bit!! On reading the form it didn't seem to be the form I wanted, so I rang up DEFRA. On explaining what I wanted and why, I was told I didn't require an import permit - end of conversation. I contacted my outfitter again and got the same answer - no permit, no leopard. So I rang DEFRA again, this time on the second listed telephone number and spoke to a different person. Not good this time either - I'm told you don't require one and "anyway we decide if you get one and you won't". I'm now beginning to panic. I've paid my hunt fees and the government fee and it was looking like I wouldn't be hunting leopard.

What to do? I think...CITES is the same worldwide - it's just managed by different government departments - that's it, look at another country. So I went on the American Fish & Wildlife site and guess what? There was a page saying, if you are hunting leopard (Appendix I species) in Botswana or several other African countries, you require a preliminary CITES import permit before you go. So back on the phone to DEFRA and yet another person. Again I went through the whole thing but missing out the US Fish & Wildlife information. Once again I was told - you don't need one. My next question seemed to unnerve him a bit - are CITES regulations the same worldwide? The answer - yes. It was like a stalk - I had my animal, now for the why does the American Fish & Wildlife site say you do? Oh boy, I had him! It went quiet and he came back with a very quiet "you don't need a preliminary CITES import". Oh no, not again! Then it struck me, it was a question not a statement so my reply was, what do I need? You want...a wait for it...a draft permit! I can't write what went through my mind but let's say, it was colourful. He told me what to do - it was the right form and all I had to do was to write 'draft import permit' in the remarks box. Was this the end? I would love to say it was, but the answer is no. About 2 weeks after sending off the form, I received an email form DEFRA asking why I hadn't filled in all the boxes. So I emailed back the reason why - I hadn't taken the leopard yet. 30 days later, I received my draft permit, but DEFRA, not to give in, enclosed a letter telling me what I'd been trying to tell them for over 2 months. I have to say I've had no further problems renewing the draft permits or with the full permit. One other thing - if you go to hunt any Appendix I species, you must keep the permits up to date, they have a life of only 6 months so must be renewed.

My cat I heard today is packed and waiting collection by the shipping agent. Oh boy, I can't wait to see him and to see if I can get him in my trophy room. Umm - that might be a problem. I have an impala coming as well and I know he's going to be a problem (I've run out of wall space). And yes, I'm planning my next hunt - this time for some of the smaller species. So to finish, a couple of thanks, to Cecil and his team at Life-Form Taxidermy for some of the most fantastic taxidermy I've ever seen. My thanks also to Susan and Steve (Kuduland Safaris) and Colin without whom I wouldn't have had such an unbelievable time and taken some unforgettable trophies.

Bob Mitcham

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