Taxidermist’s tall order: Stuff a giraffe

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 10:22pm
  • News

By Kevin Mccullen Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK — Tyler Ono is tackling a tall order at his Kennewick taxidermy shop.

The co-owner of Tri-City Taxidermy has created many meticulous mounts over the years of deer, elk, bear and other species, even a yak and a crocodile. But he’s now working on a giraffe, and it’s his most challenging project yet.

“It’s required a lot of stuff,” Ono said, glancing skyward at the mount of the old bull giraffe that stretches 12 feet, 4 inches from floor to near the ceiling in his shop.

The giraffe — and other mounts in the shop that include a wildebeest, impala, bush buck and warthogs — belong to Barry Mowery, a lifelong hunter who grows apples and cherries between Benton City and Prosser.

They were among the game species Mowery bagged during a safari in Zimbabwe in October 2008 with his wife, Darlene, and cousin L.D. Hibdon. It took more than a year — and at least $4,000 — to get the hides shipped from Africa to Washington, Mowery said.

Ono last week climbed scaffolding rigged around the giraffe mount, which he estimates weighs up to 400 pounds, to do detail work on its eyes and eyelids.

It’s nearly done, but it will remain with Ono for a bit while Mowery constructs a 24-foot-wide, 32-foot-long trophy room with a 16-foot-high vaulted ceiling for the giraffe, the other species he took on the safari, and elk, deer, sheep and other North American big game he’s taken over the years.

“It’s going to be a man cave,” Mowery said, laughing. “There aren’t going to be any windows. It’ll have a big-screen TV, a bar and one big double door.”

The absence of windows will keep potentially damaging ultraviolet light off the mounts, “and why take up wall space when you can add another mount?” he said.

Mowery, vice president of the Columbia Basin chapter of the hunting and conservation group Safari Club International, never intended to bring home a giraffe during his African dream hunt on a remote 60-square-mile hunting concession.

But the professional hunter who guided Mowery and his party persuaded him, saying the size of the herd in the concession — “We’d see 20-30 a day,” Mowery said —— was too large to be sustained by the habitat.

They selected a white-muzzled and scarred “old, old bull that was on his last legs,” said Mowery, estimating it weighed 3,000 pounds and was more than 18 feet tall.

The bull dropped dead to the ground with one shot from his .460 Weatherby, and in minutes it was being cleaned and cooked.

Workers built a large fire to prepare the meat, which Mowery and his wife sampled. And no, it did not taste like chicken.

“The males have a stink, and I got that smell in my nose,” he said.

Within two hours, the crew had skinned the giraffe and cleared the site.

“They ate or used everything from it. There was nothing left. Everything we shot during the trip, they took it all. There was nothing wasted,” Mowery said.

In January, Mowery brought the capes — or hides — to Ono. He had to order a form for a giraffe that he wound up having to extend by 2 feet to make the neck longer, and he added more foam to the chest so the cape of the giraffe would fit snugly over it.

“I used three cans of foam in one week. It usually takes nine months to a year to go through just one,” Ono said.

He also had to erect scaffolding and secure the mount to a stand so he could work on it. Ono said it took five days to stretch and sew the cape. When Mowery finishes his trophy room, Ono and Leon Mathews, co-owner of Tri-City Taxidermy and an avian taxidermist, plan to help him arrange all the mounts. The giraffe shouldn’t be too problematic to transport because it can be laid flat to haul.

Mowery said he’s uncertain how much Ono’s work will cost him and didn’t offer to venture an estimate.

“It’s not going to be cheap, but that’s all right,” he said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it would be a shame not to mount them. Tyler does a good job and every one of (the mounts) looks good.”

Ono climbed down from the scaffolding one afternoon last week after touching up the giraffe’s eyelids. He paused to look over the unusual mount, reflecting on a project that only an experienced taxidermist would tackle.

“There’s just so much involved,” he said. “Altering the form is huge, and it’s not something where you can do something and say, ‘This looks good.’ You have to know what you’re doing.

“I’m happy with it. It turned out good.”

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com