Abdur Rehman is one of the few taxidermists in all of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and makes the rather tall claim that he has “so far stuffed every wildlife species found in Pakistan.”
Taxidermy is the art of preparing and stuffing the skin of animals to mount for display. Mounted animals are popularly found in natural history museum collections or atop the proud hunter’s mantle place.
Rehman has a substantive list of animals he has worked on, “hogs, deer – barasingha, chinkara (gazelle), leopards, cheetahs, golden pheasants, silver pheasants, sea gulls...” The list goes on to include peacocks, monkeys, water fowls such as the Ruddy Shelduck, locally known as Surkhab, and other migratory birds such as sparrows, grouse and parrots.
He told The Express Tribune he had “nearly stuffed every animal in the province, either in a personal capacity or as an official taxidermist.”
His journey to preserve wildlife in its inanimate form began 28 years ago. “I joined my uncle in Lahore, who is a well-known taxidermist, in 1985. It took me six years to master the various processes involved in skinning, tanning, washing, preserving and creating the cast which the skin is mounted on,” explained Rehman. Birds are easier to work on and stuff, and only require two days to complete the process for an animal the size of a pheasant.
Although there was some variety in the type of client, it is mostly the hunters who come knocking at the taxidermist’s door, wanting to preserve their bloody trophies as pristine mounts.
Skin, tan, cast
Most people hand over the carcasses soon after the hunt – then it is Rehman’s time to get his hands dirty.
“First, all the skin is carefully removed. The skin is then washed completely to remove all insects and dirt, and to kill the insects found in different animals.”
“The next step is tanning and treating the skin to ensure longevity. In the final stage, after the carcass is measured and re-measured, a mould is prepared and the skin attached with the help of several chemicals,” said Rehman, walking us through the steps of ‘preserving the dead.’
The rate for this rather laborious process varies according to each customised order. For instance, Rehman charges Rs2,500 for preserving a duck in “flying position”. However, almost 60% of the fee goes towards the cost of the process.
Unlike the pheasant, a chinkara (gazelle) is mounted for at least Rs8,000 and the charges can go up to Rs10,000. According to Rehman, it can take about a week’s worth of labour.
Rehman has a room where he displays his personal collection of taxidermy gems. Rare varieties of ducks could be seen strutting their stuff posthumously, including the legendary migratory duck, the Ruddy Shelduck known to most as the Surkhab. “The duck gets its name from the reddish-gold colour of its feathers which are the subject of idioms [in Urdu],” explained Rehman.
When asked if Rehman would opt for another line of work if given the chance, the taxidermist exclaims, “My profession is the most beautiful profession in the world and I really love it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.