Did they dream of unspoilt pelts when other children dreamt of ballet shoes and fighter jets? Did they start out as tailors and, perhaps forced by economics, find themselves stitching up dead animals instead? Do they even still exist?
I think that I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the taxidermist is probably a critically endangered species in Southern Africa. Proof? The last time I popped into Cape Town's Natural History Museum (I was feeling a little nostalgic) the animals were? well, shabby. There were definite patches of mould, loose stitches and, in a few cases, missing eyes. Forlorn, oversized teddy bears.
Not so in Britain's somewhat grander Natural History Museum. Here the animals' coats are almost glossy and, perhaps more importantly, there are actually people visiting the museum. In fact, even in the middle of winter there is a long queue outside. Admittedly, they are probably all coming to see the life-sized robotic T-Rex in the dinosaur section, but nevertheless, here they are.
Speaking of that T-Rex? if taxidermy had a Hollywood, this would be it. Forget about that atmospherically-lit corridor in the Cape Town museum where the varnished (and very possibly papier mache) dinosaurs rip each other's throats out in a frenzy of red paint; this guy is straight out of Jurassic Park. He moves; he makes terrifying noises that echo through the dinosaur exhibit from his secret chamber; and he very almost makes taxidermy cool.
Cool is, of course, not a word readily associated with museums. But Britain's museums certainly do come close. And that's not just my inner-nerd speaking.
In spite of the moral dilemma posed by the fact that much of what you'll find in the British Museum has been plundered, it is still awe-inspiring to stand in a building that houses so many of the world's cultural treasures.
If you can wriggle your way through the crowds, you can catch a glimpse of the Rosetta Stone in all its trilingual glory. On the same floor you can stand before one of the colossal Easter Island heads; walk through a Syrian lion hunt from the 10th century BC; and marvel at a peculiar crystal skull. And the museum offers five storeys full of similar treasures.
Where the British Museum is full of grandeur and self-importance, the Science Museum strives to be hip. The exhibits are new and sparkly, focussing as much on the history of science as its more recent developments. On the third floor, for those with kids (or for those who just happen to be adult-sized kids), there is an interactive section called Launchpad. Once you move past the initial embarrassment of being about two feet taller and 20 years older than everyone else in the room, you'll discover that playing around with a thermal imaging camera and listening to music through your teeth is actually rather fun.
And while natural history museums are, by their very nature, somewhat boring, the home of the rock-star T-Rex also offers up a pretty hands-on human biology section (no, not kind of hands-on) and the thrill of taking an escalator through the centre of the earth.
Most importantly ? and this beats a well-stitched zebra ? they are all almost free (although a #3 donation is expected). Free. London. Two words not often encountered in the same sentence. In retrospect, that may explain the long queues.
Save the taxidermists! Visit a natural history museum today?