Seymour native uses taxidermy to teach students about wildlife

A group of students at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School has learned a unique set of skills over the course of the school year.

Through weekly meetings and activities, the 42 members of the school’s Habitat Club have become animal detectives.

By studying paw prints, scat and other clues, they are able to identify what kind of wildlife may be living in the school’s Wildcat Habitat outdoor nature lab, at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge or even in their own backyards.

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During the club’s last meeting May 10, former Seymour resident Andy Stark used his experiences with taxidermy to give students another way to identify animals.

Stark, the son of Habitat Club sponsor Peggy Stark, brought a variety of animal skulls for students to see and touch. He is a licensed taxidermist and owns his own business, Stark White Trophies, in Lafayette.

Besides taxidermy, Andy also is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and conservationist.

Preserving the skulls and using them to educate others is a way to respect an animal after it has died, he said.

Students got to investigate the skulls of an opossum, a white-tailed deer, an American alligator, a bobcat and a beaver, all of which Andy prepared himself. He also brought along some antlers and horns for the club to study.

By looking at the teeth on an animal’s skull, they were able to deduce what kind of diet the animal, whether it was an herbivore and ate plant material or a carnivore and ate meat. Some animals are called omnivores and eat both, Andy said.

Some of the students said the alligator skull was their favorite because it was so big, while some liked getting to see the beaver’s large and very prominent incisors.

The enamel on a beaver’s teeth is rich in iron and gives it a rusty brown color and makes them very strong, Andy said.

Other club members were impressed by the bobcat skull and how sharp its teeth are.

Andy said he was happy to be able to share his passion for taxidermy and conservation with youth.

“I think the kids got a kick out of it,” he said. “I think it’s important to speak to children about these things so they know what animals they might see in their hometown or what habitats are related to the Wildcat Habitat.”

The Habitat Club celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and is open to Jackson students in first through fifth grade. Students must be recommended by their teachers and write an essay on why they want to be in the club. They also have to commit to their involvement by participating in the meetings.

Andy wants the younger generation of people who will grow up to be hunters to be mindful of protecting habitats for the animals, he said.

He learned to appreciate wildlife from his mom and dad, Steve Stark, who first took him hunting when he was 12.

When they would harvest a large deer, they would sometimes use a taxidermist, but Andy said over time, he began to do some of the work himself.

“I just thought I might be able to do this,” he said of becoming a taxidermist.

In 2015, he made his first European mount with a white-tailed deer. He started practicing the art of preserving skulls with smaller trapping animals.

“It’s grown since then, and I just started the business up in February,” he said. “But it’s been a long time coming.”

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Business: Stark White Trophies

Owner: Seymour native Andy Stark, licensed taxidermist

Location: 54 Churchill Court, Lafayette

Specializing in skull cleaning and whitening, Euro mounts, antler work and crafts, skull art, antler dog chews, custom lamps and more

Phone number: 812-528-1021

Online: Stark White Trophies on Facebook