Singapore millennials run taxidermy business to bring 5 figures a month
Vivian Tham works at a veterinary hospital in Singapore by day, helping doctors run tests that are crucial in determining treatment plans for sick animals.
After her 9-to-5 job, Tham sheds her lab coat to “service the dead” through taxidermy — the art and science of breathing life into dead animals through careful preservation.
Together with her husband Jivan Jothi, they run Black Crow Taxidermy & Art, a studio that offers pet preservation services and conducts workshops on butterfly domes and animal dissection.
“Serving animals, whether alive or the dead, is very meaningful to me,” Tham, 29, told CNBC Make It. “Through taxidermy, I help [pet owners] with their grieving.”
“There are a lot of cases where animals [go through] premature death, or a sudden accident … We help to beautify the face, cover up the stitches and give owners … better closure.”
Tham, who has a bachelor’s in zoology and master’s in pathology, started practicing taxidermy “as a hobby” at home for close friends whose pets died.
“At that point, we figured that to take on more [and] bigger stuff, you will need a physical space and if we get a physical space, then we need to treat it like a business and run it like a business,” Jothi said.
“That was the natural progression.”
In 2021, the couple put in about $14,000 to launch the business. Tham said she’s the “artist and the hands” behind its taxidermy services, while Jothi does everything else from public relations to scheduling of appointments.
While they believed there are “plenty of people” who would like an alternative to cremating pets after death, not everyone took kindly to the idea.
“In Asia, we still have that taboo against death. People even associated us with witchcraft,” Jothi said.
“We also had a situation where people reported to authorities because they thought we were killing the pets to do taxidermy.”
Jothi said fighting misconceptions of taxidermy remains the business’ “biggest struggle,” and the business operates on a strict no-catch and no-kill policy.
“Everything that comes to us has to die naturally or have a vet put it down,” he added.
“This taboo in Asian culture is always going to be there, especially with the older generation, but the younger generation are more open to taxidermy.”
Public perception was just one of the reasons why the couple wasn’t sure if the business was going to be a success.
“We are the first ones [in Singapore] to do it on a commercial scale, at this level. There was no sort of template for us to follow,” Jothi said.
“If you open a bar … you have other people or competition that you can study.”
Given the nature of the business, it was also difficult to gauge how much they could earn each month. “It’s very dependent on how many pets pass away,” Jothi said.
“Last month, we had 12 chickens come in. We didn’t have chickens for months!”
Tham added that the volume of animals they get could depend on the season as well. For example, pet owners may bring in more birds that died of pneumonia during wet seasons.
“If there’s a heat wave, there would suddenly be a lot of other pets that pass on by accident,” she said.
Despite the doubts, Tham and Jothi surprised themselves when they were able to break even “quite quickly.”
With the workshops they conduct every weekend, Jothi said they would make around $7,000 on a “bad month.” On a good month, they can bring in up to $22,000.
For now, the duo said, the number of animals they can take in is limited, given their full-time jobs. They also recently extended their wait time from six months to a year for pet owners who want their pets preserved.
“The owner would bring it to us in the first four hours of passing and we store it in our freezers until we get to it,” said Jothi, who is a pilot.
“We have express service which was half the time, at double the cost.”
The price of preservation varies with each species — dogs and cats start at $1,800, while smaller pets like hamsters start at $260.
Though juggling their day jobs and a side business has been challenging, the couple still hopes to do more — specifically in the area of public education.
They’ve been visiting schools to give talks and demonstrations on taxidermy, Tham said, which makes biology more fun than simply reading words on a page.