The art of preserving dead animals, also known as taxidermy, is slowly disappearing in Myanmar, and only a few people specialise in what to some people is a morbid endeavour.
U Baw Than – who works at Yangon Zoo – is one of only five taxidermists at the Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw zoos, the premier zoos in the country. He said there might not be anyone to succeed him once he is gone.
“I am trying to make the art well known and more interesting to people,” he said. “But I am worried that the art will disappear with me. I want a new generation to emerge in this field.”
Unlike painting and sculpture, which are representations of reality as interpreted by artists, taxidermy is the art of keeping it as real as it can be.
“We need to preserve the animal’s skin, feathers, fur or scales and body parts to turn them into an artwork,” he said.
The Yangon Zoo is conducting taxidermy classes twice this year in a bid to generate interest in the art.
“We need more taxidermists and more animals to be preserved so we can continue to learn and improve on the art,” U Baw Than said.
Taxidermy demands patience, hard work and imagination, he added.
Aside from being an art, taxidermy is necessary for zoos and for the study of zoology.
Since there is not much funding that goes into taxidermy, the few taxidermists left in the country are offering their services to preserve people’s beloved pets that die.
“We can preserve their pets with little damage,” he said.
The first known taxidermist in the country’s recent history was U Hla Sein, who studied the art in India. He collected and preserved dead animals and opened museums in Taunggyi in Shan State and in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay. In 1964, he moved to the Yangon Zoo as a taxidermist, and U Baw Than was one of his students.