Pat’s Wildways: The ‘Dying’ Art of Taxidermy

By Pat Foster-Turley

Animals from Florida and globally adorn their showroom.

Whenever I visit my friends in Gainesville I ask them for new column ideas. I’ve written a dozen or more columns about this area over the years and it is getting increasingly difficult to find something new. But this time I have my friend Bill Keeler to thank. Bill is an avid Googler, and he managed to find a YouTube video that was posted just a day before — a story about one of the last remaining exotic animal taxidermists in Florida. And, as luck would have it, this artisan was located in Melrose, a little hamlet that is often my stop to and from Gainesville. What a find!

So, one recent day I found the address for Wildlife Art Creations near Little Lake Santa Fe in Melrose, knocked on their workshop door, and was invited inside, past the mounted head of an African gemsbok antelope, a bunch of mounted wild turkeys, gator and deer heads and skulls and other animal parts and pieces. As a zoologist, I felt right at home.

Tony Breedlove works on mounting a bird, while Leslie prepares a deer hide for mounting.

When I arrived, Tony and Leslie Breedlove were in their workshop hard at work plying the increasingly rare skill of taxidermy. While Tony continued working on shaping the foam body to be inserted under the feathered skin of a bird, Leslie gave me a look at their showroom, full of mounted specimens that they were proud of. Leslie manages much of the work of preparing the skins, but it is Tony who is the master wildlife artist. His animals duplicate wild postures and scenes. One mount in particular, of a bobcat kitten found as a roadkill, captivated me and apparently captivated the attention of taxidermy judges too. Over the years Tony has won many awards at taxidermy shows around the state and further afield.

Their showroom showcases some award-winning projects, like this bobcat cub.

Tony’s work is informed by his deep knowledge of animals, their behavior and postures. Leslie told me how she watched Tony once petting a tame deer and spending about 45 minutes feeling the way its ears were connected to the skull so he could duplicate this in his prepared trophies. Leslie talked too about the heart-warming time they had when they brought complete stuffed deer, turkeys and other animals to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine in an event sponsored by the Safari Club of North Florida. Here sight-impaired children got a chance to feel the skin, antlers, and size of these animals for the first time, to their awe and wonder.

Until recently Tony was one of only three taxidermists in the state that are authorized and permitted to import wildlife trophies from other countries, thus the mounted gemsbok in his workshop. Now, however, he is the last one remaining. One of the three died, and a second retired. Now Tony, too, is getting out of the exotic animal taxidermy trade due to increasingly cumbersome paperwork. Soon Florida hunters will have to send their international trophies elsewhere.

Tony created models of dogs to uniquely mount some ducks.

There are plenty of animals for them to mount just from those hunted in Florida. Deer, turkeys and ducks are their mainstay, and they have worked out interesting ways to display them. When I was chatting with Tony and Leslie one hunter came in to pick up his turkey. Although the hunter had basically “blown away” a lot of the turkey body, Tony was able to preserve a trophy by artistically mounting just the tail, beard and talons. For those duck hunters who already have standard mounts of their kills, Tony also offers them the option of buying a sculpted life-size dog head, colored to match the hunter’s dog, with the duck mounted in its mouth.

Tony and Leslie’s work is impressive for sure. Bucko and I dabbled in taxidermy many years ago when we worked at Miami Seaquarium. I tried to mount a pelican and followed all the steps in some age-old pamphlets I obtained, but my finished stuffed pelican turned out to be a horror. Bucko tried something simpler, a hog-nosed snake, but even that looked far from lifelike. Tony’s mounts, on the other hand, could be taken for live animals except for the fact they were affixed on a wall, immobile.

Taxidermy is a “dying” skill, and Tony bemoans the fact that few young people are drawn to this trade. But for now, there is plenty for Tony and Leslie to do, and they do it well! Check out their website for more information. And if you are a deer or turkey hunter give them a try!

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Mark Tomes
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Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

Also, check out Clark’s Fish Camp restaurant on Julington Creek. Hundreds of taxidermied animals, including many exotic animals. And good food, too.
Active Member
[email protected](@memaguireaol-com)
1 month ago