Artist Abdur Rahman talks about his passion for preserving animals through taxidermy
Being the only recognised taxidermist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Abdur Rahman has done a lot of work for both the Wildlife Department and private collectors.
Talking to The News on Sunday, Rahman says he is very passionate about his work. “I have been engaged in this work for 35 years. In 1990, I was appointed a taxidermist in the Wildlife Department,” he says.
“Taxidermy is the art of preserving dead animals by stuffing and mounting the skins. In simple words, we remake dead animals from their remains (skin, feathers) in such a way that they appear alive. There are only a few hanoot artists in the country,” he says.
Hailing from the small town Gandaf in Swabi, Rahman says he learnt the art from his uncle. “There is no formal taxidermy training institute in Pakistan. My uncle Aurang Zaib Khan was a taxidermist in Lahore. I spent six years learning this art from him,” he says.
Rahman says after his retirement, the Wildlife Department had built a museum to display his work.
“I have stuffed every type of animal found in our country. Specimens of more than 250 species stuffed by me are on display in the museum located on Shami Road, Peshawar. Each animal is displayed in its original habitat. Sounds associated with the animals are also played on speakers in the museum,” he says.
Students from various levels visit the museum where they are able to see the vast variety of animal species under one roof. “They learn about animals and their habitats,” he says.
“A taxidermist’s work starts after an animal dies. First, the skin is carefully removed, then washed to remove any dirt. Next, it is exposed to the sun so that the leather gets elastic. In the final stage, the animal’s skin is stitched back. The time required varies according to an animal’s size,” says Abdur Rahman.
Rahman says he has worked mostly with deer, leopards, cheetahs, golden pheasants, silver pheasants, sea gulls and monkeys. “Most of our work is on peacocks, parrots, ducks, bats, sparrows, eagles, hawks and grouse etc,” he says.
“A taxidermist’s work starts after an animal dies. First, the skin is carefully removed. Next, it is washed to remove any dirt. It is then exposed to the sun so that the leather gets elastic. In the final stage the animal’s skin is stitched back. This is a very delicate work and requires patience. The time required varies according to an animal’s size. Small animals like cats, take two to three days, whereas large animals like tigers take weeks,” he says.
“The finishing touch is the most important. If done correctly, the finished specimen amazes people. Such work costs a lot. Many people want their pets preserved after death. Others seeking my services are hunters.”
Rahman says he has no formal apprentices. “Not many people are interested in learning this art. It is difficult and time consuming. However, I am trying to teach and train my son.”
Rahman says the art requires patience and sustained motivation. “There is not much money in it in the beginning. These factors keep most people away. However, I am trying to convince the Wildlife Department to help me set up an institution. We will teach the art to a new generation. It is very important to preserve endangered species.”
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar. He tweets at @Wasim_Chashmato