Fleshing a Zebra Hide

Submitted by J. D. Stringer on 9/16/1998. ( jds@vvm.com )

I just skinned out a zebra taken from a game farm and noticed that the hide seems similar to the shield area on a boar. It feels like there is a thin layer of cartilage over the entire skin. To salt this hide for the tannery, do I have to try to get through this even in the thinner areas? I'm afraid I see a lot of sewing on the horizon because it's going to be tough to take off without cutting holes!! Any ideas or help would be greatly appreciated!

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African Skins AREN'T Easy!

This response submitted by John Bellucci on 9/16/1998. ( ArtistExpr@aol.aom )

J.D., the problem you're facing is typical for working on skins of African mammals - ALL African mammals, but especially those of the "open" savannas. This includes all antelope, gazelles, buffalo, lion,leopard, and of course, zebra. The fact that the animals are raised in captivity in this country does not change the millions of years of evolution that developed these distinctive skin-types. To cope with the excesses of African climates - extraordinary daytime heat and chilled nights - these mammals have developed a "layered" skin construction. Beneath the initial epidermal layer (containing the hair), there are staggerd layers of adipose fat, on top of fluid-filled layers, on top of adipose layers, on top of fluid layers, on top of... well you get the idea. These layers get progressively thicker the deeper they go. This skin structure is what allows these mammals to survive the normally blistering heat, as well as enabling them to manage through the hottest droughts! This is also what is responsible for the multitude of wrinkles formed on the skin surface seen on African mammals. Also, the males do tend to sport a slightly more "sheild-like" toughness to their very precious skins as a protection whan they do battle, kicking and biting as they do. My solution would be to VERY CAREFULLY beam off any large, adhering red "meat" from the skin, and don't worry too much about the hide. (Once past this initial beaming, you will find the skin itself is VERY tender!) Salt it thouroughly and "loosely" roll it up to drain on a slanting surface, letting it "sit" overnight. Next day, unroll, scrap off old salt with a paint scraper or wide putty-knife, resalt and re-roll, and slant-drain. Third day, scrape old salt, and re-salt fairly heavily, let skin lay-out flat to start drying process. Fourth day is "final" salting day (usually) depending on your area's humidity level. Salt heavy, letting skin dry some more. Before skin is completely "bone" or hard-dry, shake off excess salt, lay large piece of burlap material over salted flesh-side, and roll skin up to ship to tannery. Ship to "major" tannery known for working with African game. Pay bill, wait for return...enjoy! There - now wasn't that easy? Best of luck to you!!

"Oh - One MoreThing..."

This response submitted by John Bellucci on 9/16/1998. ( ArtistExpr@aol.com )

I have a HUGE series on African animals coming out in the pages of Breakthrough Magazine, starting with the next issue. There will be a TON of information just like this answer in this series, which will begin with the African Elephant. Lots of info will appear in the first antelope installment, that being my favorite - the Wildebeest. So watch for this new "In-Depth" series in Breakthrough!!

Zebras are Tough

This response submitted by BOB COUGHLIN on 9/17/1998. ( )

J.D., What you found with the zebra hide is common with the equine family. The skin on a zebra stallion is much thicker than most other animals of equal size, reason being, when zebras fight they bite each other viscously. If you've ever seen zebras fighting you'll see that they will accually drop to their rumpsto prevent being bitten on their soft skinned underside. As far as having to thin the hide down. John's advice is on the money. Just make sure the skin is thououghly salted and send it to a tannery experienced in African game. Don't hesitate to ask other taxidermists for reccomendations on tanneries. By doing so maybe we can put some of the poor tanneries out of business. I have dealt with some tanneries i wouldn't send a deer skin flat to , nevermind a zebra.

Just to Make Sure . . .

This response submitted by Jerry Stringer on 9/18/1998. ( jds@vvm.com )

Thanks for the quick reply. I've done a LOT of fleshing of W/T and exotics but this was the first time I've run into a hide of this consistency and wanted to make sure. So just for clarification - once the red meat and fat is off, I don't need to try to remove any of the shield - just do an extra heavy salting - I think that's the way I read the answer. I guess I'll tackle it in the next day or two. And I know what you mean about the different tanneries. I was given (yes GIVEN) a giraffe that died from a broken neck in a zoo. I was there within two hours of it's death. The temperature was about 30 degrees and I worked all afternoon, all night and into the next day to skin, flesh and salt the hide. As soon as it was dry I sent it to a "major" tannery in Ceres, California. A couple of weeks later I got a call from them and they told me that the hide had lost the hair. They explained that the hide developed a bad odor in the pickle which led them to belive that it was not taken care of correctly prior to them getting it (it led ME to believe that they let the ph get too high in the pickle and bacteria attacked the hide!). I had them send it back and it looked like rawhide with a few spots of hair on it. Made me sick!!! How often are you going to get a FREE giraffe??? Thanks for the help, guys . . . oh, and if any of you are planning to make a trip to Central Texas in the next day or so . . . well, I've got extra knives . . . and another fleshing beam! Jerry - website: http://www.vvm.com/~jds/

And One Mo' Time...Larry and Curly too!!

This response submitted by John Bellucci on 9/18/1998. ( ArtistExpr@aol.com )

Yo Jerry!
Thanks for the offer but I...uh...have..a...lion, yeah that's it...a mighty BIG lion....to skin...yeah! Once more for all those who don't pay attention in class. Remove (beam) all heavy red meat and heavy fat only - DO NOT TRY TO THIN THE SKIN - let the tannery "shavers" do the "machineable" shaving. As for the salting steps, re-read the techniques I outlined. Salting should be done in steps, not just "one heavy" salting. Now class, Pay attention, or I'll call the nuns! OOOOOOOHHHHHHH!!!!!
This is too many times that I've heard of problems at this tannery. If I were you, I would try New Method. I've never heard of anyone complain about them "slipping" African hides. I think there's some serious carelessness going on, and that troubles me deeply. The owners are great people, but the end results are what's important. Good luck to you! John.

Proper Fleshing

This response submitted by The Fur Dresser on 10/24/1998. ( )

I was told a long time ago that a skin has to be prepared to accept salt. Salt will only pull so much moisture from a skin. If it is not thinned down enough the moisture close to the hair folicles will destroy them along with bacteria and you will have slippage. I agree with John that double salting is a good practice, but if you are dealing with the certain animals thinning the skin is a must. In my opinion some of the animals that the skin, or cartliage, should be thinned down on are giraffe, nilgai necks, boar capes, american buffalo(around the head and horn area), oryx, and eland necks.The one animal that you should leave the cartilage on for the tanner is the zebra, the cartilage for the most part is literally too close to the skin for removal by a skinner, that one is best left to the tanner, but all fat and meat removal is essential and double salting a must.John is absolutely right. Remember if the skin is too thick the salt cannot do it's job, and that includes too much fat or meat left on any hide before salting. Remember guys, its good stuff in to get good stuff out..... The Fur Dresser