Nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted me when I stepped into his bedroom. Every inch of the room was filled with life-sized animals, but these were not stuffed toys.
Sculptures of big cats, birds, fishes, crocodiles and snakes adorned the walls and floors. These were bodies of dead animals, preserved and stuffed so they looked life-like.
Daniel (not his real name), 28, is a closet taxidermy and bone collector. By day, he works as a technology trader and looks just like a regular guy with a man bun.
He started his unique hobby in 2009 and over eight years, has collected over 100 taxidermy pieces, from the common mynah bird to the bone of a walrus' penis.
DANIEL IS BARELY FAZED BY THE LIFELESS STARES OF HIS ANIMALS.
The same room that houses his prized collection serves as his quiet sanctuary when dusk falls. Sleeping beneath strange silhouettes of animal skulls and listless eyes would be distressing for any visitor, but he clearly has no fear.
A rug made from the skin of a polar bear lies on the floor by his bed, and he hugs his stuffed wolf to sleep every night.
"When you talk about taxidermy, we are just using the skin of the animal, finding a mannequin and pasting the skin over it. This gives it a really realistic appearance," explained Daniel.
DANIEL PLACED A FEW RACKS OF HIS CLOTHING NEXT TO HIS COLLECTION.
While Daniel cannot remember exactly how many stuffed animals he owns, as he does not keep a journal or logbook of his collection, he could identify every piece with ease when I pointed at them at random.
One would expect a room filled with stuffed dead animals and bones to emit an unsettling odour, but we could hardly detect any his room. Instead, the home, a five-room HDB flat which Daniel shares with his parents and younger sister, smelled of incense from his family's altar in the living room.
So, why taxidermy?
"I was always fond of animal skulls and the anatomy of different animals. What got me started into collecting taxidermy was when I purchased a butterfly frame, when I was 18 or 19."
"Since then, I started collecting deer antlers and I moved on to larger taxidermy and oddities. As a collector, you just want to collect rarer and rarer items. My interest just grew," replied Daniel, who also works part-time as a corporate trainer.
THIS BUTTERFLY FRAME IS ONE OF THE OLDEST PIECES IN HIS COLLECTION.
DANIEL'S BEDROOM DOOR IS COVERED WITH SIGNS AND ARTWORKS HE COLLECTED OVER THE YEARS.
Looking at Daniel's collection, I wondered how much he has invested into his hobby.
"It really depends. You can expect to spend hundreds easily just to repair or upkeep some of the taxidermy pieces that might not have been preserved well by its previous owner."
"I can't give you the exact number because in the beginning, it was easy to keep track. If we were to break it down since the day I started, I think I easily spent $3,000 [monthly] on this," said Daniel.
Out of curiosity, I asked Daniel about the rarest item he owns.
He said: "Every item I have is rare. To me, there isn't a rarest item actually."
THE NECKLACE (PICTURED) IS MADE WITH ANIMAL TEETH.
To import a taxidermy piece into Singapore, a permit may be required from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.
Daniel said: "I do not buy anything new or online. I source everything locally. You have to be tactful [when obtaining taxidermy]. Most of what I have are hand-me-downs from antique dealers, and some are from my grandparents."
The avid collector has even ventured into stuffing his own animals.
"Taxidermy can cost zero dollars too, because it can be road kill. It can even be your house lizard's skeleton. I have some road kill pieces, like mynah birds and a black cat that I found and preserved on my own," said Daniel.
He added: "I learnt [the art of taxidermy] from several mentors, and at the same time, I practiced on my own. Nowadays, I don't do it anymore, because it will stink up the place and my parents aren't fond of that."
THIS BLACK CAT, WHICH DANIEL PRESERVED ON HIS OWN,
WAS FOUND DEAD WITH A SMASHED FACE.
For Daniel, taxidermy pieces are not just decorative ornaments.
"I see it as an art form to educate the next generation, especially when certain species are close to extinction. This way, I am able to preserve it and pass it down," explained Daniel passionately.
How do his loved ones feel about his out-of-this-world hobby?
Daniel answered: "In the beginning, my parents didn't understand, so I would put everything in my room.."
His parents have since given in and even allowed him to place some of his pieces in the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
What about his girlfriend?
"My partner is fine, she is comfortable. This is why I need to find the right partner (laughs). Either I lose my partner or my collection. But she does admire them, and is very supportive," said Daniel happily.
DANIEL TURNS ON THE AIR CONDITIONER FOR MOST OF THE DAY
TO REGULATE THE TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY OF HIS ROOM.
Among his friends, Daniel is often labelled as "the guy who collects dead stuff".
As the community of taxidermy collectors in Singapore is small, Daniel often finds himself in conflict with other collectors.
"Every collector wants to beat each other. Everyone is constantly looking out for the most expensive, rarest item but the thing is, I am not that rich."
"If I am able to have this specific item and he or she can't have it, that makes collecting taxidermy even better," said Daniel, who enjoys the thrill of out-bidding his competitors.
THIS PARROT IS ONE OF THE MOST COLOURFUL PIECES IN HIS COLLECTION.
However, Daniel shared that he has seen other collectors receiving hate comments online about their taxidermy collection, especially from animal activists.
"They say that we're promoting killing and that we should stop taxidermy. It is hard to educate them, but I do search for ethical taxidermy [animals that died naturally]."
But it has not stopped Daniel from doing what he loves.
He said: "It is like being fashion forward in Singapore. People will think I'm weird, and maybe it will take them five years to actually understand what I am trying to do. But [taxidermy] is something I really enjoy, and it will not go out of fashion for me."
PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/BRANDON CHIA