Ashley Siebor, a 30-year-old vet technician, was living in New York when her cat kept bringing her presents of mice and small squirrels he found around the apartment. Eventually, she decided to do something about it.
“I just thought, why not just look it up?” she told Mashable about her first foray into taxidermy. “I watched a couple YouTube videos.”
She said she loves animals, and wanted to preserve them if she could.
“I love being surrounded by them,” Siebor said. “At this point my entire house is full of my collection. I know you follow me on TikTok. So a lot of those videos are pretty much my collection.”
Taxidermy is traditionally a male-dominated industry. But Siebor, who now works in Connecticut, is part of a growing group of female taxidermists who have taken over my TikTok For You page. It was on Siebor’s For You page where she first noticed Kelly Brong, a 23-year-old taxidermist in Pennsylvania.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cool — another girl and that’s in the taxidermy field,'” Siebor said. “So we kind of started talking and now we’re best friends. It’s cool to be in this field and find other people that like the same thing.”
Brong got into taxidermy because, as a student of graphic design, she “loved the art of it.”
“I’ve always been into art and taxidermy is a super hands-on thing and I love animals so much,” Brong told Mashable. “So this is the perfect way to combine art and animals together.”
“Plus there’s like an amazing group of people that do it too,” Brong added. “There’s a lot of female taxidermists now. A lot of them. I’d say it’s actually becoming more female dominated as the years go by, which is really, really cool. So there’s a great group of people and everyone’s pretty much willing to help you if you’re a beginner or a veteran at it.”
Data of taxidermists broken down by gender is hard to come by, but in Pennsylvania, where Brong works, the number of female taxidermists from 5% in 2005 to 9% in 2017. Now, TikTok is helping some women artists not only create their own community, but also to make the art form more approachable and lucrative.
“I made some awesome friends throughout this and it definitely helped open up my business for sure,” Brittany Emrick, a 34-year-old taxidermist from Indiana, told Mashable. She added that TikTok helped her business boom across states, and attracted customers to her shop who might not otherwise have known she existed.
“This is only my third year on my own, and I’ve gotten more and more [business] every year,” she told Mashable. “But [TikTok] has definitely brought in a wider demographic of people further away. It’s made a huge difference for people traveling hours just to come drop something off.”
Beyond the business aspect, Emrick said she likes posting on TikTok so people can better understand what taxidermy is all about.
“I am a huge animal lover and it is confusing to [some people], but these animals that I taxidermy, they are feeding families,” Emrick said. “The whole animal is going to use.”
Emrick also thinks TikTok and other social media platforms are helping make the “whole industry” more inclusive.
“Taxidermy for a long time, and still some of the old ones are still the same way, but to try to get someone to teach you or to learn, nobody wanted to share their secrets,” Emrick said. “So now it’s all starting to come out more and it’s not a big secret. So I think women are being more invited in to learn.”
One of Brong’s goals for her TikTok is to “make this whole thing more approachable for a lot of people.” And she thinks the female taxidermists on the platform are doing just that.
“I think that a lot of these girls do make this more approachable,” Brong said.
But it isn’t all that easy.
Brong wants to post more of the process of taxidermy — something that can take weeks and involves measuring, skinning, salting a hide for preservation, preparing a mold, mounting, and more. But, because of the nature of the trade, it can get censored on social media.
The process is really intense, Emrick said. “I think why some of us are doing the videos and stuff, so people can see what all is involved.”
“I don’t post anything too graphic, because you I don’t want people to really think of taxidermy as a graphic thing. But stuff gets taken down anyway,” Brong said. “Even me mounting a bird could get removed. So it is kind of hard, but you have to just keep posting and reposting and praying that your stuff doesn’t get removed.”
Brong says that’s frustrating, “especially because you try so hard to censor stuff and just make it very tasteful and approachable to people and it gets taken down and we work like a week or two weeks on a video and it just kind of things, but it is what it is. It all comes with the game, I guess.”
That’s something many taxidermists on the internet experience. But, at least for now, Siebor says it’s getting better.
“Definitely in the beginning, my videos would get reported,” Siebor said. “But now I’m actually getting a lot more positive vibes. I haven’t had any mean or rude comments in a while. Because I feel like making it delicate or pretty in a sense or more feminine, it’s more acceptable maybe. When you say taxidermy, you immediately think [of] hunting and just throwing a trophy on the wall, but I feel like mixing art with it and making it something pretty or something to really look at brings out the more positive.”