Giant snake rendered immortal by Llangollen man's handiwork

Published date: 25 March 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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IT’S sometimes hard to say farewell to old friends.

But one reptile collector has found he can keep his pets for ever. When his nine-foot-long female boa constrictor died of old age, he sent her to Llangollen-based professional taxidermist Doug Coates.

Doug, whose shop is in Mill Street, has been at the top of his profession for decades and his work features in just about every museum in the country – including the Natural History Museum in London. He has also carried out work for the National Trust.

“I’m not sure how old the boa was but it’s an adult female,” said Doug, 64.

“I cannot say who the client is for security reasons but he is a collector of reptiles and I have set three or four smaller snakes for him before.

“He sometimes takes in snakes which need rescuing. A lot of people buy boas and do not realise just what size they grow to and are then tempted to release them into the wild.”

In fact, boas can live between 20 and 30 years and in some rare cases even 40 years, so to acquire one as a pet is a long-term commitment.

To mount a nine foot boa is time consuming. “The whole thing took about seven or eight days,” said Doug.

“When the skin is taken off it is supple but if it’s left to dry out it will go brittle, so it has to be soaked in a tanning solution so it can be stretched over the mannequin.

“In this case I carved the mannequin out of balsa wood,” said father-of-two Doug.

Because snake skin can become transparent, colour has to be airbrushed in using photographs supplied by the collector to get a colour match.

Doug, who has lived in Llangollen virtually all his life, preserves and sets creatures which have died naturally, although he does carry out restoration work on Victorian examples.

His interest in the natural world began in childhood, when he started collecting bones and feathers.

He even received a stuffed bird or other creature as a present and took them apart to see how they were made.

What started out as a hobby – Doug served his time as a plasterer as a young man – became a full-time profession in the late 1960s.

“I had to teach myself, using old books for information,” he said. When a new Guild of Taxidermists was formed in 1976, Doug was one of its founder members.

He preserves and sets new specimens to sell or carries out commissions such as the boa constrictor, as well as undertaking restoration work.

But he has also devoted time to researching the history of Victorian taxidermy, has a large library of books on the subject and has worked with one of the country’s leading experts in the field, retired zoologist Dr Pat Morris.

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