"There are no tigers or any other protected species here — they are absolutely forbidden!" Boyce admonished a visitor who mistakenly called a nearby stuffed leopard a tiger.
In danger of disappearing from the wild due to poaching and habitat loss, tigers are listed world-wide as endangered and hunting them is illegal. A mistaken report of a stuffed tiger at this week's Safari Club hunting convention would be bad news for the show and maybe dangerous for the reporter.
"Everything here is under strict hunting quotas," Boyce explained as he eagle-eyed his taxidermy set-up crew on Saturday. Boyce and his men were preparing for this week's giant Safari Club International convention opening Wednesday at the Reno Convention Center. Boyce made it clear he demands perfection. To the untrained eye, a leaping baboon's feet look normal- to Boyce they are flawed and unrealistic. He ordered a reconstruction of the ape's appendages back at the company shop.
An avid hunter and longtime Safari Club member, Boyce is a staunch defender of what some detractors call "the dead animal show" and the high-dollar hunting industry in general. Big game hunting is "the fundamental economy in some areas" of the world, according to Boyce.
"The money (from hunting) goes back into anti-poaching, research and habitat conservation programs," Boyce explained. Safaris and guided hunts generate funds to help build schools and the carcasses trophy hunters leave behind feed local people, he said.
"Food is the currency in Africa," Boyce said. "Every animal that we shoot for a trophy the meat is cut up and dried. The meat itself is eaten and sustains local villages."
Behind the high-dollar animal trophies seen at this week's convention are unseen social and economic benefits, Boyce claimed.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Boyce said.
Boyce's work will be all over the convention floor as client outfitters and professional hunters from around the world feature his taxidermy in their booths. On Saturday, Animal Artistry crews set up "dioramas" or life-and-death wildlife action scenes pitting a bear against a wolf and a lion against a leopard (not a tiger!). In business for 30 years with 30 employees, Boyce said his business is thriving thanks to his 20 years with the Safari Club.
"We didn't feel the recession,” he said.
On the future of wildlife and, therefore, the commercial hunting industry, Boyce is not optimistic. He's especially concerned about Africa where wildlife occupies land needed by poor, hungry and "uncontrolled" human populations. Boyce sites the African problem of hungry, cramped-for-space elephants trampling trees and crops and threatening people. Elephant trophies are "big time" popular with wealthy hunters and commercial culling of "rogue" elephants brings dollars to the community, but Boyce believes it's "too little too late for wildlife" conservation.
"We're fighting a losing battle,” he said. “We’re just slowing it (extinction) down."
As a hunter and rancher, Boyce wasn't afraid of jumping into the local wild horse debate. Unlike elephants, wild horses are not indigenous and need to be managed to protect Nevada's wildlife, he believes. Boyce has fenced off his property to keep out the animals he calls "incredibly filthy and destructive" of water holes and fragile desert habitat and that chase away wildlife. He questioned why wild horses are protected from hunting and ridiculed the opponents of wild horse round-ups.
"That is Hollywood nonsense," Boyce declared. "They (wild horses) breed and breed. The mustang herds have exploded."
Boyce suggests that Nevadans travel to Africa to see the wildlife before it disappears and recommended Tanzania as a bright spot for wildlife and commercial hunting management.
"Go and experience wild Africa while you still can,” he said.
The Safari Club International Convention, one of the year's biggest conventions in Reno, opens Wednesday and closes Saturday. Former President and SCI member George W. Bush is expected to speak and tour the convention like his father former President George H. Bush did in the 1990s.
Only Safari Club International members may attend the convention according SCI spokesman Nelson Freeman. Memberships may be purchased at the door for $55 for a year or $1500 for a lifetime membership. In addition, a registration fee is required of $310 for 3 days, $205 for 2 days or $130 for one day of the convention