While at the Museum I worked with a team of 5 taxidermists lead by the renowned Reinhold Rau (famous for, amongst others, his concept of the Quagga Rebreeding Project). My first task was (unbeknown to me) an initiation of sorts to determine if I could 'stomach' the work, a test to see if I knew what I was getting myself into. The “Betty's Bay Leopard” had sadly just been shot and I was up to my elbows in it, since then it has become clear to me that skinning need not be so messy.
I eagerly accepted the opportunity and, through the South African Museum, I started a lengthy apprenticeship, which lasted for 7 years. I passed my exams with a 1st class pass and qualified as a taxidermist in zoological preparations. Some years later I started my own business and was able to utilise an old out building on one of the family farms, with thanks to my parents who helped me achieve this dream. Almost single handedly I set about adapting and customizing an old wine cellar into a 'wet-lab' and workshop. After acquiring the necessary tools and chemicals, the biggest task was to create life-like manikins of various animals and make re-useable fibre glass moulds of these manikins.
To date all taxidermy processes are undertaken in-house including skinning, fleshing, tanning, moulding and casting as well as carpentry, final mounting and finishing. Only the best chemicals are used, e.g. Eulan (insect proofing of hair and horns), Lutan F (high quality tanning chemicals) and various degreasing and bleaching chemicals. Kiaat wood is used extensively for shields (onto which skulls and fish are mounted for wall hanging or table mounts).
My taxidermy approach has evolved to the extent that I have specialized my talents. This means that in taxidermy terms I accept only what I know I can comfortably mount, ensuring anatomically accurate results. This includes fish, birds, shoulder and skull mounts. To date I haven't had a single case of insects attacking any of my mounts, a track record I aim to continue.
This combined with my commitment and training helps to ensure a mount of top quality and coupled with the fact that I am the taxidermist actually doing the work helps me live up to my motto of
“The bitterness of poor quality will long be remembered after the joy of a low price.”