Many of animals used in my work are naturally deceased. This means they have died of old age, from fighting with other animals, or other ways that animals die that do not involve the handiwork or intention of a human being. I collect these when I visit rural areas, (only where it is legal to do so). Other naturally deceased specimen come from friends who breed such animals as pets (like fancy pigeons and fancy rats) and they sell me their deceased.
Some animals used in my work are discards from sustainable farming and food service. This includes pet-food service, which raises animals such as mice, rabbits, and small birds to be sold as whole frozen meat to be fed to snakes and other carnivorous pets. The animals I use are the ones that would otherwise be thrown away if unsold. Farms are also where the young animals (such as fawns) come from. Again, they are not killed for art, but are stillborn animals, or young animals that were not strong enough to survive-even after extensive medical care. For certain animals, I buy them from whole and frozen farms to eat the meat, and harvest the pelts. I even feed my cat the organs and bone marrow! Other discarded animals are from taxidermists or tanneries who have freezer cleanouts (because they are retiring, closing their businesses, downsizing, or a number of other reasons). Others come from abatement work. Again, these animals would be harvested and put into the garbage if not used otherwise.
When I do hunt or trap, I do so with discretion, and meat in mind, as opposed to trophies. I prefer eating meat this way, since I know exactly where it comes from, and it also means I get to try some "exotic" meats too! I believe that if one eats meat, one should know exactly what goes into it instead of buying a faceless lump in a grocery store. Contrary to popular belief, hunting for meat can be done sustainably, especially when done following the numerous laws that come with it-including seasonality and limits on how many animals you can harvest. Any good hunter will tell you this, as we love nature and responsible hunting promotes environmental stewardship, and even helps manage invasive species. I have friends who hunt this way too, and when they are finished harvesting the meat for themselves, instead of throwing the pelts away, they sometimes offer them to me. Responsible wildlife management has helped many species thrive, not to mention the dollars go straight towards conservation, keeping wild land wild, maintaining biodiversity.
Some people are in awe at the number of animals that I am able to find and use. Believe it or not, death is just as much a part of life as living. Modern society is wonderful, however, we are very removed from the reality of death and the extent of animal products in everyday things like lotions and cell phones. Ethical sourcing is the opposite of cruel (but if you are opposed to eating meat, I can only ask that you respect my dietary choices as I respect yours). There are fewer and fewer taxidermists, especially today, that are advocates for killing something for the sole sake of art. For those that do-all I can say is live and let live. As I said above, ethics are subjective! Everyone does what they feel is right. What I have written here is simply to explain my process for those who are interested, and not to place judgement.
Please also note that sensational news media does not always include these points in their coverage of taxidermy art (or anything, for that matter!). In appealing to the ever shortening attention spans of readers, it is disappointing that certain outlets choose to use their clout to conjure a story that preys on human emotion and faux outrage to gain ratings and traffic as opposed to honestly reporting the truth to educate readers. Clickbait wins. Even when the information is readily available, as it is right here.
To quote another artist, sometimes we must pause, look beneath the surface and explore other points of view. Whether or not we agree, your reality is as real to you as mine and others are to me and them. It is always better to ask than to assume. As a human being, I'm always growing, changing, and learning, so these ethics are an ever evolving thing.
Thanks for taking the time to read!