Multi-faceted man in search of recognition

Self-taught animal skeleton maker of Bhubaneswar

Multi-faceted man in search of recognition

He wears many hats and is unconventional to the core. He has a degree in automobile engineering. He has done his PhD in zoology. He is a sportsperson too and once donned the Indian colours in International Throwball Championship.

He is a black belt in karate. But he is more famous and known for a different reason-- his expertise in animal skeleton preservation, a skill mastered by a very few people in post-independence India. “Animal skeleton preservation is a passion with me,” he emphasised. Meet 42-year-old Bhubaneswar-based Dr Siba Prasad Parida.

Parida’s foray into animal skeleton preservation happened by chance soon after he joined the Regional Museum of Natural History (RMNH) in Bhubaneswar as an interpreter in 2004. A dead spotted deer recovered from the nearby Chandka reserve forests had arrived in the Union Government-run centre for removal and preservation of its skin. After the job was over, Parida sought the permission of the then director of the institute Dr P Roy to take out the bones and reconstruct the skeleton of the dead animal. 

A sceptic Dr Roy allowed him to do it. And he completed the task successfully much to the delight of the RMNH staff. The skeleton of the spotted deer is still on display in one of the galleries of the institute.

The big break for Parida, however, came the very next year in 2005 when he conducted the skeleton preservation work on a dead African Black Rhino which had arrived from Mysore museum in Karna­taka in a “mummified” state. “As the dead animal was in a mummified condition, it was a tough job for me to take out the bones and reassemble the skeleton.

Chemicals had to be administered to soften the muscles of the dead animal,” he maintained, adding that it took 17 days of hard work to complete the job.Since then, Parida has not looked back and has gone to preserve skeletons of both giant as well as tiny animals besides reptiles and birds.

They include a huge 47.3-foot-long endangered Baleen whale which had swam ashore and died on the sea beach of Gopalpur in southern Odisha Ganjam district and a 19.8-foot-long estuarine crocodile whose caracass was found in a river inside the Bhitarakanika Wildlife and Marine Sanctuary in coastal Kendrapara district.

His other important works are preservation of skeleton of a Irrawadi dolphin, a highly endangered species from Odisha’s Chilka lake, Asia’s biggest brackish water lagoon, a 15-year-old wild tusker from Chandka reserve forests, a turtle, a russel viper, a bat and a flying squirrel. “Till now I have conducted skeleton preservation work on about 20 animals, reptiles and birds,” he said.

Parida’s skeleton preserves are currently on display in wildlife museums and interpretation centres in different places in Odisha besides the RMNH, which has been set up in the Odisha capital by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for creating environment awareness and imparting conservation education. In fact, the huge skeleton of the Baleen Whale installed in one of the galleries of RMNH has become extremely popular among the visitors, particularly the youngsters.

Similarly, the skeleton of the estuarine crocodile, which is currently on display at the mini-interpretation centre inside the Bhitarakanika sanctuary, has become a major hit among the visitors as well as research scholars and experts both from inside the country and outside. 

Though skeletons of bigger animals like whale, crocodile and tusker have brought him name and fame, Parida said it is more difficult to conduct the skeleton preservation of smaller animals, reptiles and birds. “Small animals, reptiles and birds have smaller bones. Therefore, it requires a lot ofconcentration and hard work to separate these bones and reassemble them for a perfect skeleton,” he observes. 

In addition to skeleton preservation, he has maste­red the art of taxidermy and has won accolades. His taxidermy works include a pangolin, barking deer, hyena and snakes. “Dr Parida is a leading young taxidermist of India. He is a master craftsman,” said Prof P K Pattnaik of Utkal University, Odisha’s oldest and leading university. 

Unfortunately, such a talented man is yet to be adequately recognised either by the Odisha Government or the Central Government. He continues to work as a mere interpreter at the RMNH on a contr­act basis. Though he has the required qualifications, his repeated plea to appoint him as a scientist or regularise his services in current post has fallen on the deaf ears. Apart from the educational qualifications, he also has to his credit 15 full research papers which have already been published in different international science journals. 

“The RMNH thrives on Dr Parida but cannot give him a permanent job. What a pity,” lamented the master animal skeleton maker’s long-time associate Subhendu Mallick, who runs Bhubaneswar-based Snake Helpline. Parida is also a founder member of Snake Helpline, which helps rescuing poisonous snakes in different places across the state, particularly Bhubaneswar which is notorious for snake menace.

The setback in his professional life, however, has not dampened his spirits. “It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction when I conduct the skeleton preservation exercise. I am doing something for the future generation. And this satisfies me most. Some of these animals may become extinct in the coming days. Hence, the preservation of their skeletons is extremely essential for the benefit of the future generations,” Parida pointed out. 

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