Zoological Preparation Unit

Taxidermy refers to the process of preparing, stuffing, and mounting vertebrate animals or certain parts of such animals.

The German term “Präparation” is still used today in surgery to describe the dissection of anatomical structures and is derived from the Latin “praeparo”. “Taxidermie” in German (from the Greek “taxis”, meaning “order”, and “derma”, meaning “skin”) designates a sub-field of “Präparation” committed to creating artistic and highly realistic recreations of animals or certain parts of an animals. The aim is to produce objects for educational and decorative purposes.

Classic taxidermy of skins and skeletons play a central role in providing research material for the vertebrate department’s scientific collections, while highly realistic objects are often required for exhibitions. Almost all of the exhibits displayed at the NHM are originals.

The techniques used to create lifelike objects have changed significantly in recent decades. Modern exhibits have little in common with “stuffed animals”. The first step in the process, removing and cleaning the skin, is the same as before. When it comes to recreating the form of the animals, however, the skin is no longer stuffed with straw, peat or moss (hence the term “stuffed animal”) but is instead stretched over a plastic frame which is custom made to exactly the right size. This technique is known as dermoplasty.

Some animals are very difficult or impossible to preserve using taxidermy. In such cases models are used to create highly realistic replicas. These can be lifesize or, especially for small and very small creatures, magnified.

Model makers are often required to produce such objects, sometimes in large numbers for exhibitions. Other important tasks include reconstructing species long extinct and creating lifelike dioramas, the term used for the often elaborate three-dimensional backdrop within which the exhibit is set. As with the dermoplastic method, modelling demands excellent technical skills, creativity and a keen sense of observation and imagination.

The zoological preparation team produces exhibits for both the vertebrate department and all other departments at the NHM Vienna who require taxidermic preparations or models for communication and teaching purposes.