TYRON SOUTHWARD, 45, DUNSANDEL
I was only 12 when I started and a possum was the first thing I ever did. By 17, I was employed by Terry Jacobs, New Zealand’s biggest taxidermist of the time, and he trained me until I was 22, when I went out on my own.
This time of year, autumn-winter, is the best part of the hunting season. I have three full-time staff and several part-timers, and we start at about seven in the morning and work through till five or six at night.
We have a series of workshops. In some rooms we do the intricate skinning processes and in another we set up the forms or mannequins – what’s inside the mounts. There’s a messy room where we make artificial rocks and another room where I mainly work, mounting the tanned hide onto a form.
We test-fit the tanned skins on the forms, then make notes as to what alterations are needed to make them fit better or to have them in a position the customer wants. We don’t put them onto a shield anymore like you see in the old pubs – that’s old-school. Nowadays we do a full shoulder mount, so it’ll literally be the mount on the wall.
Most of our work is for people hunting deer, tahr and chamois, and a lot of our market is export for international hunters. They go out with New Zealand-resident guides and outfitters, then we process their animals and export them back to the US, Europe or anywhere around the globe.
It takes about 20 hours from start to finish to mount a large stag, but that’s normally stretched out over six to 12 months. If you drop a stag in to me right now, it’ll be 12 months before you get it back.
You don’t have to be a hunter to be able to do it, you just need to have an appreciation for what you are working on. One part of taxidermy that even experienced people find difficult is getting the expression in the eyes. If you haven’t got the expression right, it can look very odd.
Our bread-and-butter work is shoulder-mount red stags and tahr, but we still mount full-body
tahr and, from time to time, full-body red stags. We make our own forms mostly, but the States
has the biggest range on the planet and if you want to mount a life-size elephant, you can buy
the form from America.
The smallest animal I’ve done is a goldfinch and the largest were an Alaskan moose, a 15-foot crocodile, and a 10-foot brown bear. It just depends what people want.
AS TOLD TO Rosa Shiels PHOTO Cassandra Kovacs