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Taxidermy is the practice of preserving the skins of animals and using them to create tableaux or dioramas of the animals in what are meant to be accurate representations of their shape, habits, and/or life environments. Taxidermical techniques have developed considerably in the modern age. The practice may be considered to be an offshoot of the mummification of corpses, human and otherwise, as found in ancient Egypt and Xinjiang. However, mummification was conducted primarily for religious purposes and the resultant mummies were not meant for public display. When taxidermy began on a significant scale in the 18th century, it served a partly scientific purpose to help to disseminate information about creatures that most people would have almost no chance of seeing live in the wild. It also became important for hunters to display the prey they had managed to kill.
Chemical processes were established to preserve skins and some other organic remains, although the methods were often somewhat crude and inconvenient. In the 19th century, processes improved to the extent that large tableaux could be created that were displayed in some of the better-regarded natural history museums of the world. As time progressed, taxidermists moved from the concept of stuffing animals with some kind of nonreactive filler to the concept of mounting them, which involves using a variety of structural materials and techniques to create the desired lifelike appearance. The American naturalist Carl Akeley is associated with the transformation of taxidermy into a systematic and well-ordered process. Recently, new processes have enabled the realistic recreation of a wider range of organic remains and a broader selection of the animal world.
While taxidermy is likely to continue as an artistic hobby, especially among common animals, its use in science and conservation is likely to decline as computer graphics improve and are better able to recreate the life conditions of animals.
- Carl Ethan Akeley, Taxidermy and Sculpture: The Work of Carl Akeley in Field Museum of Natural History (Field Museum of Natural History, 1927);
- Mary Jobe Akeley, The Wilderness Lives Again: Carl Akeley and the Great Adventure (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1944);
- Gerald Grantz, Home Book of Taxidermy and Tanning (Stackpole Books, 1985).