Video: Bringing life to dead animals

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On Monday afternoon I found myself in a small room being glared at by dozens of wild animals that looked ready to strike.

For me - a man who is ill at ease around beady-eyed animals - it represented one of my worst nightmares.

Thankfully, my host David Irwin assured me that all the animals were very dead and the chances of me being attacked were less than slim.

The fact they look so lifelike is a credit to the 31-year-old Donaghcloney man who has been working as a taxidermist for the past seven years.

David, who was educated at Donacloney Primary School, Lurgan Junior High and Craigavon Senior High, said he enjoyed outdoors pursuits such as shooting and his love of wildlife gave rise to his interest in taxidermy, a hobby which quickly became a profession.

“I went over to England and learnt the business from a friend over there,” he said.

“It’s taken a while to get it established, but things are going well now,” he commented.

“I’m an animal lover. That’s why I do this. I’d much rather have them alive, but this is a way of preserving them in their prime.”

David said the majority of his subjects are roadkill, birds that have flown into windows or captive birds which have died naturally.

In terms of his paid-for work, his commissions range from hunters looking their trophy mounted, to the general public who find specimens on the roads or even wish to have a family pet preserved.

His stuffed and mounted animals can fetch anywhere from £100 for a small bird up to £500 for a deer’s head.

Describing the attributes needed to make a good taxidermist David said: “You need to have a good knowledge of wildlife and anatomy. You need to know how bodies work, things like muscle structure, so you’re able to display the animals as they are in their natural habitat. When they come to me they’re dead so they don’t look anything like they normally do.

“Every animal has its own wee complications. For example woodpeckers’ heads are much bigger than their necks so you can’t pull it inside out down its neck to clean it the way you normally would.”

He added: “Having a bit of a stomach doesn’t go a miss. Some of the stuff you get as a taxidermist can be a bit iffy.

“Badgers are rotten, they just stink. People say foxes are smelly, but generally speaking they’re not too bad.

“Pole cats are bad as well. I’ve done one or two of them and it’s an arm’s length job.”

In the simplest possible terms, David’s job involves removing the insides of animals, whilst retaining bones for structure, then putting a Styrofoam or wood wool mould inside them, sewing them up, then arranging them in a pose for display.

David puts his finished pieces on display at game fairs and some of his work is on display at Oxford Island. He has won prizes in competitions in England and is hoping to branch out into Europe and America.

“It would be great to try and break America,” he said. “Taxidermy over there is a different league.”




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