“Raja is resting right now. He’s chilling, basically,” chuckles Dr. Santosh Gaikwad, referring to a dead lion in the deep freeze. Outside, a stuffed lioness called Jimmy preens in the sun, while little children approach her with caution, daring each other to put fingers in her mouth.
Dr Santosh Gaikwad is India’s only practicing taxidermist and heads the Wildlife Taxidermy Centre at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. In the past decade, he has stuffed eleven big cats (tigers, lions, snow leopards), 120 fish and 150 birds, ranging from a tiny sunbird to a giant ostrich.
If you ask nicely, he’ll even help preserve your favourite pet. “For sentimental reasons, I work on private projects involving pets. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, you know.” Waxing poetic?
Hail A Cub
Inspired years ago by a travelling natural history exhibit at a Mumbai museum, Mr Gaikwad, a practicing vet and professor at Bombay Veterinary College, began to teach himself the process of taxidermy. Discovering that there were no formal taxidermy courses in India, he contacted retired practitioners, international colleges and “as many resources as possible” to buttress his knowledge.
“I began with experimenting on poultry and small birds in our one BHK home. Sometimes, I had to use our fridge to store these creatures. My wife was not happy but soon, she understood what I was trying to do and became supportive.” Said wife twinkles at us from a corner, all the while keeping an eye on the ball her kids are throwing around in the garden. Mrs Gaikwad and the kids are visiting the taxidermy centre today, “since it’s holiday time.”
That Stuffy Feeling
“Taxidermy is an art that includes various studies such as anatomy, sculpture, painting, carpentry and cobblery,” Mr Gaikwad explains. He pursues taxidermy to increase wildlife research, education and awareness in India. “The layman must be given a chance to interact with the country’s wildlife,” he says, while painting a mount for a stuffed kite. “Who will ever know that there are so many different kinds of birds in India unless we preserve them?”
He reminisces about a massive elephant he once worked on, in Gadchiroli. “I had to enlist a cobbler to help me deal with the skin of the elephant, but eventually he backed out. He couldn’t handle the animal. There are no skilled workers in this field. I hope to change this. My goal is for a national taxidermy centre to be eventually established. How else will the future generations know what was here before them?”
He’s dead right, you know.
Getting there: To preserve a pet or learn more about taxidermy call Dr Santosh Gaikwad at 9821303562 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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