Stuffed animals adorning the walls of villains were common in Hindi movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Though they are no longer seen in today’s films, but the Wildlife Taxidermy Centre (WTC) at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli has been steadily working towards preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of dead animals.
Santosh Gaikwad, who heads the Wildlife Taxidermy Centre, with a tiger he has worked on.
The centre, which was set up on March 31, 2009 and started operations on October 1 in the same year, has done the taxidermy of over 100 animals, birds and reptiles, including the exotic Snow Leopard and Siberian tiger, since its inception. But over the last one year, the centre has been plagued with requests from far-flung institutes and forest divisions including the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun and the Natural History Museum at Darjeeling, to do the taxidermy of birds and animals.
How it all started
The WTC was initially started inside an old garage, measuring about 510 sq feet, where, earlier, tiger-lion safari buses used to be parked inside the SGNP. However, with the increase in demand for taxidermy of the animals to preserve them for educational purpose after their death, the small two-room premises has now been extended to a proper Taxidermy centre. “The old garage was converted into a taxidermy centre by replacing steel shutters with walls, windows, electric and plumber fittings.
A cama are other animals that he has laboured on. Pics/ Nimesh Dave
Initially, forest guards were not even aware of the term ‘Taxidermy’. They thought that the SGNP had started a taxi stand,” guffawed Taxidermist and Associate professor of Anatomy from Bombay Veterinary College Dr Santosh Gaikwad, the man at the helm of affairs at the centre.
Gradually this centre became popular as not only cadavers were getting a new lease of life after death but students and visitors were also appreciating these creations. “It led to word-of-mouth publicity and slowly we started getting offers from the forest divisions of Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan etc,” added Dr Gaikwad, who is the only taxidermist at this centre.
A growing number
Over the last one year, the WTC has been inundated with varied requests right from doing the taxidermy of wild animal skeletons for Indian Forest Service training at Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun to stuffed local birds at Karnala Bird Sanctuary, Raigad, a Bengal tigress for Bilaspur forest Division Chattisgarh, prepare a bird gallery for Natural History Museum at Darjeeling and restore and repair stuffed animals, considered as trophies, from various institutions and military departments.
“The objective for setting up the WTC was to preserve the animals for research, education and medico-legal investigation,” said Director and SGNP Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) Vikas Gupta.
The word Taxidermy (Greek for ‘moving skin’) is the art and process of mounting or reproducing animals for display. The skin of a dead animal is removed, tanned and treated. The carcass is then moulded in plaster.
The mould is used to produce a cast of the animal. Glass eyes and artificial teeth are added to the display. The art has been famous in India since the British era.
Usually the lifespan of the trophy (taxidermy animal) is between 70 to 80 years. The trophy has to be kept in an air-tight glass box.
Key animals that have been preserved till date
>> Lioness: SGNP, Borivli
>> Royal Bengal Tiger: SGNP, Borivli
>> Leopard: Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan, Byculla
>> Himalayan Black bear: Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan Zoo, Byculla
>> Snow leopardess: Bharat Ratna PGB Pant high altitude Zoo, Nainital (Uttarakhand)
>> The country’s last Siberian tiger: Bharat Ratna PGB Pant high altitude Zoo, Nainital (Uttarakhand)
>> Peacock: Raj Bhavan
>> 13-feet Indian rock python: Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan Zoo, Byculla
>> 8 x 6 feet Indian rock python: SGNP
>> 9 feet alligator:Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan, Byculla
It costs Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 to work on a mid-size animal such as a leopard.
Rs 70,000-Rs 75,000 for big animals such as an elephant or a rhinoceros.
Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 for a bird