Though mongooses are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, the killing of thousands of mongoose across India for their hair has gone largely unnoticed.

In major drive Wildlife Crime Control Bureau seizes illegal mongoose hair brushesAll images courtesy: Wildlife Crime Control Bureau
news Wildlife Monday, October 28, 2019 - 14:29

A nationwide operation carried out over the last two months by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), called ‘Operation Clean Art’, led to the seizure of 54,352 brushes made of mongoose hair and 113 kg of raw mongoose hair and the arrest of 43 persons on Thursday. The operation was carried out simultaneously across six states in India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

According to officials, roughly 30 to 40 gm of hair is collected from a mongoose after hunting. Out of which only 20 to 22 gm is useful for brush making. Therefore, for every kilogram of mongoose hair used in brushes, a minimum of 50 adult mongooses are killed.

“This is a well-planned and coordinated operation that has hit this illegal trade at multiple levels. The small town of Sherkot in Uttar Pradesh was the main manufacturing hub of these brushes and all the past seizures pointed fingers to Sherkot as the source,” says Jose Louies, chief of the wildlife crime control division at the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

Jose adds, “On Thursday, the WCCB raided all 10 factories that produce these brushes as well as various storage centres across India where mongoose hair was kept, thus severely denting this illegal trade.”

While poaching of elephants, one-horned rhinos, pangolins and of course the death of tigers elicit strong reactions, the killing of thousands of mongoose across India for their hair has gone largely unnoticed. “Despite all these raids, if you go to any shop in major Indian cities, they still largely stock brushes made out of mongoose hair. The number of animals killed for this trade is the single largest threat the species faces today,” Jose says, adding, “Even though there are other alternatives available, the fine quality of the hair, its durability and brittleness has endangered the animal.”

The next phase of the WCCB’s operation is to spread awareness about this illegal trade among people. “While in other wildlife crimes most of the consumption of the illegal products is abroad, in this scenario the domestic market itself is enormous,” says Tilotama Varma, additional director, WCCB. “We are also looking to rehabilitate the local people and others who are part of this illegal trade, so they are encouraged to not take part in this anymore. Based on the intelligence we receive, we might conduct more seizures and raids across the country as well,” she adds.

Mongooses are found across the country and are widely distributed in the countryside, farmlands and forest areas. Traditional hunting communities across the country hunt mongoose using various methods. Narikuruvas in Tamil Nadu, Hakki Pakki in Karnataka, Gonds in Andhra and Karnataka, Gulias, Seperas and Nath in central and northern India are the main suppliers of the raw hair for the business.

Mongooses are listed under schedule 2, part 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and their hunting, possession, transportation and trade is an offence, and punishable with imprisonment for up to seven years. They are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). A total of six different species are found across the country, namely, the Indian grey, small Indian, ruddy, crab-eating, stripe-necked and brown mongoose. The Indian grey mongoose is the most commonly found species and also the most hunted.

Officials hope that the concerted attention given to intercepting this illegal trade will provide dividends. “The next stage now is to discourage people from using these brushes and also to target the middlemen and transporters. We hope this will be the final stroke for this illegal brush trade,” Jose says.

Sibi Arasu is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru. He tweets @sibi123.

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