Making convincing replicas of animals—most frequently birds and mammals—by using their prepared skins and different supporting structures is known as taxidermy. It involves mounting (on an armature) or stuffing an animal’s body to preserve it for display or scientific study. It can be traced back to the ancient practise of preserving hunting trophies, but the main factor in its development as an art was the rise in interest in natural history, particularly after the Enlightenment, and the ensuing appearance of both private collections and exhibits of birds, beasts, and curiosities in public museums.
Like a poet who immortalises his muse in ink, a taxidermist does the same to the creatures with whom the sentiment values are attached.

In a country where 1.3 billion people reside, it’s hard to wrap around the fact that there is only one Taxidermist. Only one person carrying this art form.
“In the year 2003, I visited the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai, I saw very live like, life-size tigers, lions and mammals were mounted. Then my subconscious mind really was very impressed and then I started to find out some solutions regarding Taxidermy”, says Dr. Santosh Anant Gaikwad, India’s only wildlife taxidermist about where his interest in this art form first rose. The only licenced taxidermist in the nation, finds it difficult to comprehend his obsession with the extinct British craft. Taxidermists were once in demand from maharajas who wanted to preserve their capture, particularly the big cats, and put them on ostentatious display in their lavish residences. Over a century ago, when royals hunted animals and displayed them as trophies, taxidermy was very common. Since the Wildlife Protection Act was passed and hunting is now prohibited, taxidermy has become a specialty practised only in confinements of museums.
He initially sought out a taxidermy school, but when he was unable to find one, he started going to the museum while lying on the floor to study the wounds and sutures beneath the model. He learned the craft on his own using these observations and the guidance of a few retired professionals. Gaikwad studied carpentry and worked at Ganpati workshops to gain knowledge of moulding and casting procedures as he refined his craft.
“Taxidermy. It is an art. It is a combination of 5 arts. It consists of:- cobbler art, then sculpture, painting, carpentry and anatomy.” Says Doctor Santosh who also is a professor in Mumbai’s Bombay Veterinary College.
Gaikwad, a self-taught taxidermist, is the only individual authorised to stuff wild animals in the nation. In addition to beloved dead pets of private individuals, he has preserved 13big cats, more than 400 wild & exotic birds and more than 200 species of fish and reptiles. He believes that Taxidermists are more closer to the nature as they handle each
and every part of animals. He holds India’s first wildlife taxidermy centre which is in Sanjay National Park. The centre is both a workshop and a museum that preserves wild and rare animals across the country. Soon after the animal dies, he skins it. The last of the flesh is carefully cut away. The animal’s body mass is measured, and a cast replica is
created using the original skeleton as a guide. The last touches are then added, such as glass eyes and possibly whiskers, before the stuffed animal is mounted on the mannequin with the genuine skin.

“The installation of the eyes are very important because when we install the eyes in these taxidermy trophies; it becomes ALIVE!!!” exclaims Dr Santosh on the nuances of the art.
He views his work as crucial to maintaining knowledge of India’s biodiversity, especially if it pertains to an endangered species. In 2008, after being invited by the Bharat Ratna Pandit GB Pant High Altitude Zoo in Nainital, Gaikwad preserved the nation’s last Siberian tiger. He overcame the awkward intricacies of the endeavour with the thrill of
invention. He is credited with numerous additional noteworthy preservations, in addition to the Siberian tiger. A few of these are Rani, a snow leopard for the Nainital Zoo, a mule for the Indian Army’s artillery centre in Nashik, two peacocks from the Raj Bhavan garden, four silver doves, and a brown owl.
He claimed that emotions are at the heart of his passion for taxidermy and that he fears that the craft would perish along with him. He claims that although many people in the nation are attempting to conserve exotic animals and birds, there is not much passion for doing so. He believes that preservation is equally vital to conservation since, in the
event of extinction, there would be no way to inform future generations about the magnificent birds and creatures that had once roamed the globe.
In his own words, “It’s a rebirth. It’s life after Death.”

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