Vivian Tham works by day at a veterinary clinic in Singapore, helping doctors run tests that are crucial in determining treatment plans for sick animals.
After his 9-to-5 job, Tam sheds his lab coat to “serve the dead” through taxidermy—the art and science of breathing life into dead animals through careful preservation.
Along with her husband Jeevan Joti, she runs Black Crow Taxidermy & Art, a studio that provides pet conservation services and conducts workshops on butterfly domes and animal dissection.
“Serving animals, whether living or dead, is very meaningful to me,” Thum, 29, told CNBC Make It. “Through taxidermy, I help [pet owners] with their grief. ,
“There are many cases where animals [go through] Premature death, or sudden accident… We help beautify faces, cover stitches and give owners… better closure.”
hobby to business
Thum, who earned a bachelor’s in zoology and a master’s in pathology, began practicing taxidermy “as a hobby” at home for close friends whose pets had died.
“At that time, we thought to take more [and] Big things, you will need physical space and if we get physical space, we need to treat it like a business and run it like a business,” Jyoti said.
“It was a natural progression.”
In 2021, the couple invested approximately $14,000 to start the business. Thum said she is the “artist and hand” behind its taxidermy services, while Joti does everything from public relations to scheduling appointments.
While she believed that there are “a lot of people” who want to cremate pets after death, not everyone has embraced the idea.
“There is still a taboo against death in Asia. People also associate us with witchcraft,” Jothi said.
“We’ve even had a situation where people reported to the authorities because they thought we were killing pets to do taxidermy.”
Jyothi said fighting taxidermy misconceptions is the business’ “biggest struggle”, and the business operates on a strict no-catch and no-kill policy.
“Anything that comes to us has to die naturally or be put down by a vet,” he said.
“There will always be this taboo in Asian culture, especially with the older generation, but the younger generation is more open to taxidermy.”
one year waiting time
Public perception was just one of the reasons the couple weren’t sure whether the business would be successful.
“we are the first [in Singapore] To do it commercially, at this level. There was no blueprint for us to follow,” Jothi said.
“If you once open , You have other people or competition you can study.”
Given the nature of the business, it was also difficult to estimate how much they could earn per month. “It very much depends on how many pets die,” Joti said.
“Last month, we got 12 chickens. We haven’t had chickens in months!”
Thum said the amount of animals they get may also depend on the season. For example, pet owners may bring in more birds that die of pneumonia during wet weather.
“If there’s a heat wave, suddenly there will be a lot of other pets that pass by by accident,” she said.
Despite skepticism, Tham and Jothi surprised themselves when they were able to break even “quite quickly”.
Jothi said that with the workshops they hold every weekend, they make about $7,000 on a “bad month”. In a good month, they can bring in up to $22,000.
For now, the two said, the number of animals they can take in is limited given their full-time jobs. They recently increased their waiting time from six months to one year for pet owners who want to have their pets protected.
“The owners will bring it to us in the first four hours and we store it in our freezer till we receive it,” said Pilot Jothi.
“We have express service that was half the time, at twice the cost.”
The price of protection varies with each species – dogs and cats start at $1,800, while smaller pets like hamsters start at $260.
‘Taxidermy is science’
Although juggling their day jobs and a side business has been challenging, the couple hopes to do more — especially in the area of public education.
They have been visiting schools to give talks and demonstrations on taxidermy, which makes learning biology more fun than just reading words on a page, Tham said.