Taxidermy- yeah, the name sounds cool… but I had no idea what it meant. I was assigned to do a story on the subject. (I asked Anjali, my then boss to repeat the word atleast thrice and I was like ‘yeh kya hai bhai?’). Lekin mera bharosemand saathi ‘Google’ is always there with me in trying times like these. I googled the word ‘taxidermy’ (nothing to do with taxis, ok!) and came to know that it is a science of stuffing dead animals in order to preserve their skin. Sounds interesting, right? I hopped at the idea of doing something different. But the task was to find taxidermy practitioners in Mumbai.
A rival newspaper article had mentioned the name of Prof Santosh Gaikwad, a professor in the Bombay Veterinary College. The next day, I went to meet him in his college which for me was quite a scary place. There were animals all around- lots of dogs, cats. I met Prof Gaikwad, who told me about his art in details. He started practicing this art as a hobby and now he has got permission of the Forest Department to stuff a dead leopard and a tiger. He started with stuffing small animals like fish and cocks. (No animal is killed for the purpose, he uses dead animals). This art is a combination of physiology, sculpture and painting. The body parts of the dead animal are carefully removed and the fat on the skin is also removed. All this has to be done very fast as the body starts decomposing. Then a sculpture of the body structure is done and the skin is put on it using chemical treatment. The entire process requires a lot of patience (rarely found in people like me :) and the sculpture has to be kept in an airtight container to avoid decaying. He showed me the photographs of his ‘creations’.
The next task was to find out one more taxidermy practitioner in the city. And I managed to found one! (Which was an exclusive because all other newspapers had carried only Prof Gaikwad). I called up museums in the city asking for taxidermy practitioners and came across Mr Dilip Ranade of Prince of Wales Museum. He used to practice the art, but doesn’t anymore. I went to meet him at the museum. A museum, according to many people, is a very boring place to go but for me it is quite interesting to know about what olden people were like and how they dressed and stuff like that. Mr Ranade is a GD Art from JJ College and initially worked as an illustrator in the museum. He also showed me his lovely drawings. As a taxidermist, he has stuffed small squirrels and gigantic animals such as rhinos and elephants! In the museum, there was a scene of some flamingos in their natural habitat. He told me that the Britishers actually went to their habitat and killed the flamingos as per their requirement- two males, two females, four juveniles. I was really disgusted when I heard this! How cruel can someone get. He also added that taxidermy was a ‘cruel art’. Now it isn’t because the animals which are stuffed nowadays are already dead. (and hunting is also banned).
The basic aim of taxidermy today, is to preserve skin of animals of the endangered animals so that we can at least show the stuffed animal to our future generations. Taxidermy is indeed an interesting art which needs a lot of knowledge, practice and dedication. I love to do articles on such interesting subjects as I get a lot to learn.