ROGERS, Ark. -- An African lioness, head erect, belly on the ground, appears to give you a glance as you walk into this big conference room at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center. But the big cat can't hold your eyes more than a moment.
This place appears alive with wildlife. There's a wild turkey gobbler fluttering over a diamondback rattlesnake, a spotted leopard walking across a tree limb, and a whitetail buck eating the fruit from a prickly pear cactus plant.
But the key words here are "appears alive." This was the site of National Taxidermists Association's 41st annual convention in late July. The "showroom," featuring some of the finest taxidermy in the U.S., was better than a trip to any zoo, even if all this wildlife was long past living.
It's an ancient practice, but taxidermy has advanced in step with the times. Modern mounts are increasingly lifelike and creative, like largemouth bass chasing bluegill under a boat dock, or a mink snatching baitfish from a stream. Judges rely on photographs of the real thing and magnifying eyewear to study the detail in each mount.
Joel Stone of Leeds, Ala., has been a taxidermy judge for 14 years. He noted the detail in modern taxidermy by pointing out an indention in a whitetail buck's nose that leads to the Jacobs gland, located in the roof of its mouth. The gland is used by bucks to detect an estrous female.
"It's small," Stone said. "It looks like just a little trough inside the nose, but it's there." And deer mounts are judged down to these tiny details.
Check out this gallery to see examples of modern taxidermy at its finest: