Art and science of taxidermy

Print edition : May 03, 2013

Anatomical sketches and notes made by Edwin Joubert Van Ingen in the 1930s. Photo: Photo Courtesy: Kendaganna Swamy, Mysore

THE Van Ingens published a booklet in the 1920s with detailed instructions and explanatory figures on “the correct methods of the preservation of shikar trophies in the field” as a badly removed skin cannot be turned into a perfect trophy. It was a practical, field-based guide that hunters could consult after they had shot their animals. There are chapters on “Skinning a Tiger”, “Skinning Heads”, “Skulls and Skeletons” and “Preservatives”. On the skinning of a tiger, they write: “Place the carcass on its back, and make an incision through the chin—not the corner of the mouth—and carry it along the centre of the throat to the chest.... Then carry the incision along from the vent to tip of tail.” Similar precise instructions are available for all animals, including crocodiles and snakes. P.A. Morris in his work on the Van Ingens describes their methods in detail. Once the salted skins or the masks (heads of the animals) came to the factory, which was located on a vast area on the outskirts of Mysore, lower-caste workers would cure the skin by placing it in chrome tan. The skins would then be pared by men using their sharp knives to reduce the skin thickness as far as possible.

After this treatment, the tanned skins would be transferred to the finishing area of the factory where pre-fixed moulds and manikins were available to give the desired shape to the animal. After the finishing touches were applied (whiskers, eyes, and so on) the fine mounts and trophies were despatched to different parts of the world.

The Van Ingens guarded their methods carefully and were very reluctant to have outsiders present in the factory. A sculptor in Mysore, who did not want to be named, narrated a story about how he was thrown out by Joubert Van Ingen when he managed to sneak into the factory in the early 1980s.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

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