Sunday, 17 July 2016

Taxidermy, a declining art in India

Melbourne taxidermi

 When we talk about Indian Maharajahs, rich Zamindars or even Colonial British masters, the first things that come to our mind are the stuffed wild animals such as tigers, cheetahs, leopards, deers, wild buffaloes, etc that are fixed to the wall or fully mounted in the corner of s huge reception halls as trophies. Perhaps it was to  show off their macho character and their talents in hunting wild animals.

Dr Santosh Gaikwad,Taxidermist & prof. of Animal Anatomy, Mumbai.
Taxidermy (from the Greek)  is the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals particularly vertebrates for display. For examples when people go hunting and if they kill wild animals, they want  them to be as trophies to be displaced in their houses.  Some times preserved animal are required to be displayed in a museum. Also included is  the simple preservation of a beloved pet. Taxidermy can be done on a variety of vertebrate species of animals, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.
A person who practices taxidermy is frequently referred to as  taxidermist  and their services are used by the  museums or by businesses, catering to hunters and fishermen, or  by amateurs, such as hobbyists, hunters, and fishermen. A taxidermist  has to be familiar with anatomy of the animal to be stuffed, sculpture, painting, and tanning to make it look real good.

In India  taxidermy is on the decline for some reasons such as hunting of many animals is banned - wild life act of 1972 (this act doe not allow even display of trophies without consent), hunting is a costly affair and the charges involved in stuffing animals are not quite encouraging, considering the time consuming work. 

One Dr Santosh Gaikwad, 42, is the only practicing wildlife taxidermist in India who has preserved everything from birds to mammals to fish. Preserving them is an art that is dying its own death. Being a vet, the art of taxidermy came to him easily as he had an in depth  knowledge of anatomy of many animals. By the bye,  at Mumbai’s Bombay Veterinary College  he still works as a professor in the Anatomy department. As for sculpting and painting he had to learn them for a while  to get perfection, a sort of fine tuning. Initially he practiced on chickens and pigeons. His work included around 200 birds, 100 fish, 9 big cats (including India's last Siberian tiger), one elephant head, a mule, a soft shell turtle, a Himalayan Black Bear and a few reptiles, etc

The future for Taxidermist in India is bleak as there are no training centers. Nor are the people interested in preserving  dead animals to make a living. He is the only authorized person to stuff animals in India. In the last 13 years he has been in this business. Initially his wife did not like his work as he had to keep the animals in the freezer. Now he is the head of a Taxidermy center in Mumbai and also runs workshop in the art of taxidermy. According to him taxidermy is the combination of five arts: sculpture, painting, carpentry, cobbler, and anatomy”. 

After removing the flesh, based on measurements and body mass, a 'cast replica' is prepared. The skin which has already been removed is placed on the mannequin and finally finishing touches are given. Care must be taken with respect to eyes, whiskers, fur, nature of ear, etc.

In the case of endangered animals, once they are gone, they are gone for ever and we can't see them any more. Preservation of such animals is a must for the future generation to know. Unfortunately in India no college teaches courses in taxidermy. He is of the opinion ''taxidermy is the optimal utilization of that dead body. It’s a rebirth. It’s life after death.” For the dead animals including pets and endangered ones in the future, there is no rebirth in stuffed forms.

Tit -Bits:
Rahmat International Wildlife Museum and Gallery, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia offers Primate and pachyderm taxidermy training.
It is illegal to have stuffed animals in the house; there is ban on the sale as well.