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LaVerne Holmes sits among his work at his shop in Mill Bay, B.C. Mr. Holmes has been a professional taxidermist for over 25 years. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
LaVerne Holmes sits among his work at his shop in Mill Bay, B.C. Mr. Holmes has been a professional taxidermist for over 25 years. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

There’s still life in the business of taxidermy Add to ...

For a craft that relies on the dead, taxidermy is thriving surprisingly well, even in this age of instant, multidimensional imaging.

Terry Woodworth, who spent 25 years in the infantry division of the Canadian army, now runs Lagoon Taxidermy in Colwood on Vancouver Island, and his skill at restoring a life-like appearance to long dead wildlife is in high demand.

A bobcat was brought in Monday morning, a frozen bear the night before. Mr. Woodworth says he already has as much business this year as he had over the first six months of 2012. In fact, he says he’s never been short of work in the 23 years his shop’s been open – and he never tires of it.

“For some strange reason, I get satisfaction from taking something apart and putting it together again. Then you try to do a better job next time,” he said. “Though I have to say, taxidermy is still a hard business to make money at.”

It’s been a long time since specimens were actually stuffed. Instead, most of today’s hides that aren’t turned into rugs are mounted onto life-size forms of polyurethane foam. Parts such as eyes and teeth are added at the end.

“It’s creative. It’s different all the time,” said Frank Gilbert, 65, of Fur and Feathers Taxidermy in Surrey, who first got hooked on the practice when he was just 11 years old. He agrees with Mr. Woodworth that business is good. “I would say it’s better all the time. More and more people appreciate the wildlife and want to keep it. I’ve got two years’ work ahead of me.”

Mr. Gilbert says taxidermy is a way of honouring the animal. “You’re not just going to eat it. You’re also going to keep the memory of it, right?”

Though he’s now contemplating retirement, the veteran taxidermist says he’d still love one last task to set himself apart from all those commissioned deer heads and black bear rugs. “I’ve never done a life-sized elephant,” he said.

As for Mr. Woodworth, who once did a 13-foot crocodile, he confesses that at times he does feel for the majesty of the animals that are hunted down, including those he has shot.

“They’re all beautiful, and a lot of them taste great, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wondering, when I shoot a moose, how much longer that animal might have lived if I hadn’t happened along,” he said.

“But once she’s in the frying pan, I don’t feel sorry for them any more – I’ve got to be honest with you.”

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