Special deer-livery


In just under a month we’ll be opening a brand new exhibition called ‘Sensing Evolution’. It will be a dramatic overhaul of our touchable displays, with many new touchable specimens for you to explore. Touchable taxidermy is always one of the most popular features in the Museum, but it’s been a real challenge sourcing some larger pieces for this new display.

Bethany Palumbo, our Conservator of Life Collections, has been busy researching far and wide to find the ideal specimens.


As well as the touchable tables that will form the major part of Sensing Evolution, we wanted an animal which would make a big impression when you arrive in the Museum. This specimen must also be obtained from an ethical source.

Mieke arrives at the Museum with the deer
Mieke arrives at the Museum with the deer

Based on its availability and abundance, we decided to go for a farmed Red Deer, (Cervus elaphus) which is one of the largest deer species. The specimen, a male, was collected and prepared by taxidermist Mieke De Leeuw, from Taxidermieke in Belgium.

Work began with tanning the skin and preparing the armature. We had a few special requests. The first was that the specimen would able to fit into our walk-in freezer, should it require freezer treatment to eradicate insect pests, such as webbing clothes moth. Another request was that the specimen be reinforced as much as possible – strong enough to withstand potentially decades of affection and curiosity from museum visitors. Mieke was enthusiastic about the mount and the unusual challenges it presented.

Packing up ready for freezing
Packing up ready for freezing. All new arrivals are frozen to ensure pests aren’t brought into the Museum.

In order for it to fit into our freezer, it was necessary for the specimen to come apart into three pieces. For this Mieke devised a locking pin system, which would be completely invisible on the finished specimen. The beautiful antlers are also removable using a similar system.

Vulnerable areas of the deer were reinforced to withstand years of attention
Vulnerable areas of the deer were reinforced to withstand years of attention

She reinforced the specimen in weaker areas, such as the ears and the tendons of the legs, which were strengthened using metal rod. Once all the skin was glued into place, it was pinned down to keep it stable while it dried.

The deer is unpacked at the Museum
The deer is unpacked at the Museum
Walter puts finishing touches to the deer
Walter puts finishing touches to the deer

Last week Mieke and her family drove from Peer, in Belgium, to deliver the specimen to us. They showed us how to assemble the beautiful specimen, before we took him all apart again for freezing.


We thank the deer’s creators, Mieke and her husband Walter, for their hard work and skill in producing such a wonderful feature for the ‘Sensing Evolution’ display.

Bethany Palumbo, Conservator, Life Collections

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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