Page last updated at 17:57 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 18:57 UK

Indian zoo to stuff its dead animals and display them

Taxidermist with tiger skin in Mumbai
Mumbai zoo hopes its stuffed exhibits will keep drawing the crowds

The only zoo in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) plans to stuff its animals after their deaths and put them on show in a museum, officials say.

The move follows a ban by India's central zoo authority on new animals being kept in confined spaces.

Mumbai zoo says it is unable to replace animals as they die because existing enclosures for some animals do not conform with anti-cruelty guidelines.

Stuffing the animals will at least allow people to see them, the zoo says.

Officials plan to set up a taxidermy museum as part of a $100m makeover at the zoo, which occupies 53 acres of land in central Mumbai.

Mangal, a 35-year-old Himalayan black bear, was a star attraction at the zoo until he died last week. He has already been stuffed along with a python and a leopard.

Renovation plan

Zoos across the state of Maharashtra are now sending animal carcasses to a taxidermy centre in Mumbai, the only one of its kind in India.

Stuffed lions - Maya (left) and Ranga
Zoo visitors will still be able to see the lion couple, Maya (left) and Ranga

Taxidermy is the ancient art of preserving an animal's skin and skeleton and then stuffing it to make it appear lifelike.

The museum is expected to open to the public in two years time.

Mumbai zoo director Sanjay Tripathi says stuffing the animals and putting them on display will be educational.

"The public will be able to see and appreciate the animals and even study their body structure," he told the BBC's Prachi Pinglay.

Dr Tripathi said the zoo would not for now be adding to its existing population of more than 200 mammals, 500 birds and 45 reptiles.

"The existing enclosures do not accord to the new guidelines," he said, "and the taxidermy museum is part of the renovation plan.

"Once the open spaces surrounded by trenches are created we will be able to get new animals. It could take up to five years."

'Dying art'

Taxidermist and veterinarian Santosh Gaikwad - who runs the taxidermy centre in western Mumbai - says it is a multi-disciplinary art involving skills in leather tanning, animal anatomy, sculpting and painting.

Taxidermist at work in Mumbai
Preserving an animal by taxidermy takes weeks of painstaking work

"It takes about two months to make a trophy [out] of a medium-sized animal like a leopard," he said.

"We have received requests from other states like Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh also. It is a dying art and needs to be preserved. Such museums will spread awareness about the animals as well as this art."

However, animal rights activists are not so enthusiastic.

Hippos in an Indian zoo
Campaigners are increasingly against confining wild animals in small spaces

They say stuffing animals may increase the illegal trade in animal skins and carcasses.

Debi Goenka, an environmentalist who studies taxidermy, says it is an ancient practice that was carried out for scientific studies or to show off hunted animals.

"Both these purposes are redundant now. Hunting as a sport is not allowed... so to stuff an animal's body which has anyways lived in captivity is just adding insult to injury," he said.

"How would ministers and civil servants like it if they were stuffed instead of the poor animals?"

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