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PHOTO ESSAY: Boyhood dream came true; a Czech taxidermist's success story

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    In this Tuesday, April 30, 2013 photo, a leopard with acupuncture-like needles on its face, to keep the skin tight, lies in Radomir Franz's taxidermy shop, in Sakvice, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Franz is one of central Europe’s most sought-after experts in the field _ and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland. Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, says 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (The Associated Press)

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    In this Tuesday, April 30, 2013 photo, a taxidermist works on a deer, in Radomir Franz's taxidermy shop, in Sakvice, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Franz is one of central Europe’s most sought-after experts in the field _ and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland. Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, says 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (The Associated Press)

  • 6d3446404df9ec10310f6a7067005db5.jpg

    In this Tuesday, April 30, 2013 photo, a leopard with acupuncture-like needles on its face and body, to keep the skin tight, in Radomir Franz's taxidermy shop, in Sakvice, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Franz is one of central Europe’s most sought-after experts in the field _ and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland. Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, says 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (The Associated Press)

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    In this Tuesday, April 30, 2013 photo, a taxidermist adjusts an artificial eye of a crocodile, in Radomir Franz's taxidermy shop, in Sakvice, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Franz is one of central Europe’s most sought-after experts in the field _ and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland. Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, says 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (The Associated Press)

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    In this Tuesday, April 30, 2013 photo, a taxidermist air brushes a bear ski, in Radomir Franz's taxidermy shop, in Sakvice, Czech Republic, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Franz is one of central Europe’s most sought-after experts in the field _ and says he has stuffed animals from every country except, perhaps, Greenland. Franz, wearing safari-like clothing and a gold chain, says 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (The Associated Press)

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.