SAKVICE, Czech Republic – At just 13, Radomir Franz already knew he wanted to be a taxidermist.
He credits a boyhood trip to a natural science museum with capturing his imagination. More than three decades later, he's one of central Europe's most sought-after experts in the field — and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland.
On a recent visit, some of his 15 staff — all of whom he trained because there's no other place to learn the trade in the Czech Republic — were stuffing an elephant's ear with a gooey plastic substance. A leopard on the floor was spiked with acupuncture-like needles over its face to keep the skin tight. A false eye was being placed on a huge crocodile. The walls and any available floor space were covered in snakes, lions, birds, bears, deer, gazelles and fish.
Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, said demand for his work never ceases, with orders from all over the world. He spends part of the year traveling to see animals in their natural habitat so that his work is as accurate as possible. He returns with thousands of photos.
He describes the practice as a mix of anatomical knowledge and chemistry.
About 40 percent of all orders come from abroad. An elephant costs more than 750,000 Czech koruna — about $37,500. And such animals can take several months. They complete about 1,000 animals a year.
The biggest animal he's worked on? A giraffe.