There are two kinds of people who love animals- the conservationists and the hunters. For taxidermist Joe Zweifel of Wildlife Revolutions, he is very familiar with both. Involved with taxidermy since 2001, Zweifel first started out working for a taxidermy business while going to school at UNR.
“I’ve always enjoyed hunting and fishing,” says the South Dakota native who was then raised in Reno. “I had a terrible job working for a factory while I was going to school- for 10 hours a day, four days a week I just sat in one spot pushing buttons.”
However, when Zweifel left his boring factory job and started working for the taxidermy business down the street, he soon realized that’s where he needed to be.
“I had never seen anything like it; it’s very different than a normal job. We do a lot of clay work, detail under the hides, it’s an art form,” says Zweifel. “There’s a lot of freedom with tons of different ways to make the animal come alive again.”
Zweifel received his bachelor’s degree from UNR in wildlife ecology and conservation and also worked as a wildlife technician for NDOW (Nevada Department of Wildlife). His view on hunting and conservation is one in the same.
“Hunting is conservation- it’s expensive to get your hunting license and the majority of that fee goes right back into conservation efforts, biologists and the animals. (The money goes) to help keep their ecosystem alive with preserving streams and ponds for the birds and habitat,” says Zweifel. “It’s to keep land for animal populations to remain healthy and viable.”
It’s clear that Zweifel is passionate about hunting and also wildlife conservation- he supports organizations including the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, NDOW, Safari Club International, and Nevada Bighorns Unlimited.
Hunters probably live healthier too, as the meat they consume is truly organic and not pumped full of antibiotics and preservatives. “I’ve been to a slaughterhouse- it’s not pretty,” says Zweifel.
“If you’ve ever been on a hunt, it’s more than killing and taking the animal. It’s the camping, the hiking, the hardships, etc. All of those stories come back with consuming the meat and taxidermy,” he adds. Zweifel says that personally he takes pride in serving meat that doesn’t taste gamey.
Zweifel started out doing taxidermy in his garage in Sparks, then moved to a bigger space in Reno, and then back to Sparks on 250 Freeport Boulevard. “Sparks has a really good industrial area- it’s raised from any potential flooding and close to the highway, but rural,” he says.
Wildlife Revolutions has customers worldwide who send him animals from their hunts- the business has sculpted wallabies, giraffes, and even a muntjac sent over from England (which is a small barking deer with fangs). His first project was an impala.
“We shipped an alligator to Canada once, and are in the process of shipping caribou and Dall sheep. The currency exchange is fun,” he says. However, they receive a lot of Northern Nevada animals such as mule deer, antelope, elk, and a few mountain lions as well.
“We do very custom things and try to think outside the box. We specialize in putting animals in different positions,” says Zweifel. The hunting and taxidermy community has definitely noticed, as Wildlife Revolutions has won the NBU taxidermy competition for three years in a row.
With a staff of five people, he says his fellow taxidermists are always educating themselves on how to improve their unusual art form.
“We’re always learning…at lunchtime we’re watching National Geographic, looking at animal anatomy books, and constantly trying to improve how we show the animal and the habitat around it,” says Zweifel.