India’s last and only Taxidermist. Dr. Santosh Gaikwad, is the keeper of a rare art. He is India’s last and only practitioner of Taxidermy.
Taxidermists preserve an animal’s body by stuffing it and giving it a life-like appearance. Dr Gaikwad is a treasure that the whole country is proud of.
Taxidermy in India
Back in the British Era, Maharajas and hunters would employ Taxidermists to preserve and show off their prized catch. These would include big cats, elephants and rare deer. But as the kings lost power, many other things also changed. In 1972, India’s Wildlife Protection Act banned hunting and Taxidermy trophies became illegal.
In the year 2003 Dr Gaikwad visited the Prince of Wales Museum. He was already a practicing veterinarian and was intrigued by the life-like stuffed animals that were on display there. His love for animals prompted him to take up this art and that’s how he embarked upon this journey.
Working as an associate professor in the Bombay Veterinary College, Dr Gaikwad is also an honorary wildlife Taxidermist at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali. It is the only such centre in India and was specially built for him.
Why Taxidermy is so fascinating
Dr Gaikwad says, “Taxidermy is a multidisciplinary art and is a combination of five arts. This includes cobbler art, carpentry, sculpting, painting and anatomy. Since there is no-one else to work on these animals, I have been given the honorary title. They have created this position for me”.
Dr Gaikwad believes that Taxidermy is a need of the hour as many species are vanishing from the face of this earth. “In the near future, preservation of these species will be a need-based activity. The process of Taxidermy will preserve them and help future generations in research and education”, he adds.
Why don’t we have more Indian Taxidermists?
Dr Gaikwad says, “Not many people are interested in Taxidermy. Since one has to deal with flesh and blood, people are scared of contracting zoonotic diseases. The procedures also require one to deal with extremely delicate specimens. For instance, if I’m stuffing a small bird, I have to be very careful and use tiny forceps and pay attention to minute details. This can be quite a tedious task”.
Dr Gaikwad began Taxidermy with birds and then went on to larger animals, fish and big cats. Till date he has stuffed over 500 birds, 12 big cats and 150 fish. Dr Gaikwad also gets requests to perform Taxidermy on pets by grieving pet owners from across the country.
Dr Santosh says, “For me Taxidermy is another phase of existence after an animal dies. So why not preserve these beautiful beings and create life after death?” Truth and beauty in one remark, we say.