U.S. Fish and Wildlife shares info on taxidermy mounts

Photo from the city of Sioux Falls.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was contacted by the Delbridge Museum of Natural History in June about recommendations for its taxidermy collection, said Dan Coil of the USFW.

Coil said the agency was contacted for recommendations on the mounts which were deteriorating and potentially contaminated with arsenic, asbestos and other harmful chemicals.

Delbridge and city officials announced on Aug. 17 that the museum was closed because about 79% of the mounts tested positive for arsenic. Arsenic is considered a carcinogen and has been linked to cancers. Officials said there was no immediate threat to staff or the public but closed the museum as a cautionary measure.

“Heavy chemicals used in past taxidermy practices can be absorbed through the skin, or, in some cases, become airborne where they can pose inhalation risks,” Coil said in his email to KELOLAND News.

GPZ, Mayor Paul TenHaken and parks and recreation officials recommended the city council declare the mounts as surplus and decommission them. The city council will receive a presentation about Delbridge today (Sept. 5).

Officials said several specimens are on the threatened or endangered species list. Specific rules govern how those mounts would be decommissioned or transferred, if possible.

“The USFWS provides recommendations on the disposition of parts/mounts from species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and U.S. federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and the Lacey Act,” Coil said in his email.

Options for the taxidermy mounts appear to be limited.

“Several factors influence whether taxidermy specimens may be sold or donated. The protection status of the species, age, and method of acquisition are just a few of the things that can influence whether taxidermy may be legally commercialized or even transferred to another owner. In some cases, permits may be required, or the transfer may be prohibited. It is the responsibility of the possessor to ensure all sales and transfers are conducted in compliance with the law,” Coil said in his email.

City attorney Dave Pfeifle said in an Aug. 29 news conference that South Dakota state law would require the city to donate to a state-qualified 5013c entity and the items would need to be stored or displayed in the state.

The USFWS cannot simply receive mounts, Coil said.

“The USFWS has previously accepted individual mounts of protected species from museums during their deaccession process, but the USFWS always seeks information about the history of the item(s) before making decisions,” Coil said. “One example of the type of information sought by the USFWS is chemical testing history and positive or negative confirmation of specific chemicals. The Service does not pay for chemical testing of the mounts. Chemical testing is the responsibility of the owner of the wildlife mounts.”

The GPZ provided KELOLAND News with the lab results from contaminated chemical testing of the Delbridge mounts. The results showed varying degrees of arsenic.

GPZ said the taxidermy expert’s evaluation report would not be available to KELOLAND. “We can tell you that the specimens do fit the full spectrum of “poor” to “excellent” condition, with roughly 30% showing visible damage and/or deterioration,” Denise DePaolo of GPZ communications said in an email.

“Neither the zoo nor the City has records of any previous chemical testing on the Delbridge Museum of Natural History. Annual maintenance on the hides has ranged from mending small tears to more substantial reconstruction. PPE, including gloves and masks, are worn by anyone cleaning or working on the mounts,” DePaolo said in the email.

Coil said best practices for contaminated mounts include isolating them in sealed glass displays. Estimated costs to do so will depend on the number and size of animals and the method of containment, he said. Guidelines also cover how to properly handle contaminated mounts.

Best practices are outlined by the American Alliance of Museums, Coil said. The U.S. Department of Interior also has guidelines.

Taxidermy mounts contaminated with arsenic, asbestos or other harmful chemicals that can’t be relocated should be “properly stored in an enclosed case, stored in a manner that does not promote contamination such as a sealed plastic bag, or destroyed and disposed of as hazardous waste materials in according with local regulations,” Coil said in his email.