Beat a Ban: Is 3D printing an option for trophy import restrictions?

The process of measurement of a hunting trophy

by Peter Ruddle

At the outset let it be stated that supports the legal, responsible, sustainable utilisation of wildlife without which we would not have a product to sell.

However, as various institutions and governments withdraw their support of trophy hunting owing to mounting public pressure and ignoring scientific facts, the gravity of the situation on Africa’s conservation model is being felt on a daily basis as more and more land goes under the cow and plough. In Tanzania numerous unprofitable hunting concessions were returned to the government for this very reason. The wildlife has now been decimated and the former wildlife habitat transformed into wasteland.     

Throughout the continent the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the situation with many conservation agencies, communities and both photographic and hunting operators left with a huge deficit in their operating budgets. How this will affect our wildlife numbers and habitat destruction is already being documented throughout Africa. Magnificent trees are cut down and turned into charcoal and poaching has increased substantially. The reality is people need to eat and will seek out alternative options in order to survive and unfortunately this includes the sale of charcoal and the bushmeat trade.

The Namibian government has unashamedly thrown their full support behind hunting as the socio-economic benefits derived by communities from this renewable resource if managed correctly are undeniable. Rather have a regulated sustainable industry than a free for all which ultimately could fast track the localised extinction of the fauna and flora of the region.    

African Buffalo trophy with a scaled reconstruction 

Threats implemented and made by western governments to ban hunting along with the pressure groups within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has led to the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) states threatening to withdraw from the organisation. Most African countries are signatories to the IUCN which regulates the controlled legal trade of all living wild creatures and plants. Policy changes are being made on emotional grounds rather than scientific advice. One of the factors that holds them back from exiting the IUCN is the impact this would have on the legal import and export of hunted trophies.

Read also: Sell the Experience: How to take the hunting industry to the XXII century?

As this pressure mounts, are there alternatives? Some clients are happy to hunt for the experience and partake in management hunts where no animal products are exported. However, the greater majority are trophy hunters, still wanting more than just a photo as a memory of the hunt and opt to have their trophies mounted.  

The laws that pertain to one independent country cannot be enforced in another. So despite the banning of trophy imports into one country, the practise of trophy hunting from the would-be exporting country cannot be stopped. Clients will still legally be able to hunt but unable to export their trophies. This may not appeal too many who want a mounted memory of their trophy to hang on the wall.  


Taxidermists using 3D printing technology are gearing up for an alternative to conventional taxidermy work. It is possible to make exact replicas of skulls, horns and tusks out of artificial plastics. Add with some fancy artwork the process and the mount could look exactly like the real product.

Without getting to technical, 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the construction of a three-dimensional object, all computerised and controlled.  3D printing has come a long way since the 1990s. The process now has the ability to precisely repeat very complex shapes that would be impossible to construct by hand. Hollow moulds as we know them are supported by internal trusses which effectively reduces the overall weight of the product. Even the materials and colouring finishing touches look realistic. 

Many different materials can be used in 3D printing, such as ABS plastic, PLA, polyamide (nylon), glass filled polyamide, stereo lithography materials (epoxy resins), silver, wax, photopolymers, polycarbonate, titanium, steel, stainless steel and aluminum.

Antelope scull and horns replicated by 3 printing

This allows for many more design options and applications for both internal and external trophy room displays than conventional taxidermy which fades in direct sunlight, affected by heat from fireplaces, mold and mildew in humid climates. These replica mounts can be touched by humans, easily and safely dusted and you never need to be concerned about possible insect damage to your hides and horns, a lifelong threat in any trophy room.

There is nothing as beautiful as a well mounted trophy for an enduring life long memory of your hunt. 3D printing is unable to replicate the hide and hair textures at the moment, so in reality cannot be compared with the genuine traditionally tanned product.

Read also: Your Trophy is Your Memory: Wise taxidermy choices for an African hunt

Another factor not appreciated by the hunting industry is the marketing value that taxidermy creates to the value chain. Once a client receives his mounted trophy after waiting for up to a year, this often prompts the client to book their next trip which ultimately keeps all Outfitters in business.

Taxidermists are not adverse to 3D printing technology but rather see it as a value added service.  

 3D Printing Applications

Major advancements in the medical field have been made by 3D printing. Surgeons can produce patient-specific body parts or organs from as small as the bones of the inner ear. Designers and developers can go from flat screen to the exact physical part. Everything from toys to aerospace components are being built with 3D printers.


3D printing is also used for fashion design, architecture, interior design, art and jewellery. Replicas of your animal’s skull can be reproduced as highly-detailed miniature sculptures or ornamental applications in bronze, brass, sterling silver and 14K gold.

Full size non painted models can be hung on the wall, a modern day popular interior decoration or used as a wall decoration on the exterior of your house.

So if it’s a European skull mount you after or replica of a tusk, the technology is there. Unfortunately, the shoulder mount technology is not quite ready to go to market but will no doubt be developed in due course.   

Other advantages to 3D printing of trophy mounts:

Traditional Taxidermy Services

Traditional tanning and taxidermy work takes time and responsibility to ensure that the mount is correctly tanned, mounted and prepared for export either as a raw prepped (salted, dipped and packed) or mounted specimen as per the European Union and US Fish and Wildlife specifications. All of these processes add to the cost. The use of plastics and composite products used in 3D printing will mitigate this whole process. 

Even the wood used for the construction of the exporting crates must be fumigated and treated for wood borers. Raw prep trophies and skulls being exported to the EU countries must be sealed in plastic so that the receiving agent can inspect each trophy in the shipment on arrival. None of this will be required when exporting a 3D product.

Recorded for Life

Once scanned and saved in the cloud your trophy can be recreated at a touch of a 3D printer button. This effectively means if you lose your original traditional taxidermy trophies due to fire or theft it can always be replicated in a number of different ways.

Scanning Procedure for the Record Book

The scanning procedure is so simple and more accurate that an official’s tape measure. Portable scanning devices can be shipped to you to scan your trophy and the file verified by an official Safari Club International (SCI) measurer. This tool is being evaluated for consideration as the official SCI measuring method. 

Research and Hunting Data

Another added benefit is that collected scanned trophy data can be utilised for research and hunting data. All the digitally stored data is easily shared worldwide and can be made available to organisations like the IUCN and various international conservation authorities to enhance their conservation decision making decisions and provide sound scientific statistics, information which can be used to justify the allocation of hunting offtakes.  


Trophy Export Paperwork

The bane of every outfitter, taxidermist and hunters life. All export documentation which includes export permits, CITES permits, veterinary export certificates, weigh bills, freight agent documentation and import documentation can all be done away with. 3D products can be exported as a normal souvenir.  

Avoiding a Trophy Boycott

Trophy skulls, horns and tusks can be accurately scanned to 100th of an inch in one country, uploaded to the cloud and downloaded in another country where the exact replica can be printed in your home country. 

This means that a legally hunted trophy from one country can be exported to another country where the importation of such trophy is denied or banned. No permits, no import duties, no airline trophy bans, no long waits for your trophies to be mounted and no shipping costs and delays.

In this way hunters will be able to enjoy their sport, still support the conservation efforts made by outfitters worldwide, get around threatened bans and display their artificially constructed trophy in public as a piece of artwork and not a stuffed animal.

The Future

Trophy Scan is a patented VoluMetrics (VM)™ process with scoring and measuring software and represents the latest and most advanced trophy game measuring and scoring toolset ever developed. The printed models are durable, light, and cost effective when considering the outlay cost of a trophy hunt. The records of the trophies can be digitally stored for future use, data collection, or even insurance cover. Technology has entered the hunting industry, and now offers hunters a world of great new opportunities and products.

The process of measurement of a hunting trophy

Are you ready to replace your trophy with 3D printed copy? Tell us what you think in the comments! 



Trophy Scan – USA

Photos – Trophy Scan

Splitting Image Taxidermy – SA



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