There seems to be no end in sight to the large scale massacre of mongoose for their fur. Over 3500 painting brushes made of mongoose fur were seized from 13 different locations in the country in a raid conducted by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau with the help of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
The raids were carried out in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. According to reports, the animals are hunted and killed all over the country and the fur is supplied to brush manufactures in these states.
Six species of mongoose are found across India. As per the investigations carried out by the WTI, Kerala figures prominently among the states where the mongoose fur trade is thriving. Over 15,000 brushes made of mongoose hair were seized in an earlier raid carried out in Kochi.
Painting brushes made of mongoose fur have a huge demand in the international market. They are also sold all over the country. They last longer due to the fine quality and resilience of the hair compared to sythentic fibres, say experts. UP and Kolkata have emerged as the biggest manufacturing hubs – over 50,000 brushes were seized in October from these two locations alone. In 2009, 30,000 brushes were unearthed in Delhi while raids recovered 20,000 from Kolkata in 2013.
The hunting, possession, transportation and trade of mongoose are punishable offenses in the country as the animal is listed under schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Although a census has never been carried out to determine the mongoose population in the country, the WTI reports suggest that over 50,000 mongooses are killed every year for their fur. The hair is used in the manufacturing of painting brushes as well as make up brushes due to their fine and smooth texture.
The rampant hunting of the animal in Kerala has come to the notice of forest authorities, says G. Harikumar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life). The fur trade lobby employs vagrants and locals to hunt down the animal. The authorities have been cracking down on hunters consistently, but has kept it low key to prevent the ‘glamorourising’ of fur trade and fur brushes, he says.
The amount of fur got from a grown mongoose is only about 40 gm. Out of this, only half can be used for the manufacturing of brushes. This means that almost 50 mongoose will be killed to procure 1 kg of fur which can fetch between Rs 3000 – 3500.
Mongoose, like most other animals whose fur is used, are often skinned alive and are left to die a slow and torturous death. After stunning and subduing them by beating on the head or pelting stones, the animals are kept alive as it is believed that skinning is easier when the animal is still warm and blood is flowing in the veins.
mongoose was listed under schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act since 1991 which gave them little protection. But the rampant hunting of the animal received the attention it deserved after a seizure of brushes in Moradabad in 2002 was estimated to be equivalent to 50,000 dead mongooses. This led to their inclusion within schedule II which provides absolute protection. Offences involving schedule II animals are awarded the highest penalty.
A documentary made by filmmaker Syed Fayaz and WTI, ‘A Brush with Death’, helped create awareness on the cruelty meted out to the animal. The documentary, released in 2002, was based on studies and research and contained footage of undercover operations revealing the scale and brutality of the trade. Many art schools across the country went ahead and banned the use of paint brushes made with mongoose fur.
Kerala, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh are among the places where mongoose hunting is most rampant in the country. The fur is then supplied to brush manufacturing centres located in Ghaziabad, Meerut, Chennai, Delhi, Nasik, Mumbai and Siliguri among others. West Bengal even has a community that has been traditionally engaged in the hunting of mongoose. The brushes are then smuggled into Nepal and Bangladesh from where they are sent out into the international markets.
The Indian Grey mongoose, which is the commonly seen variety in Kerala, is listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. There is also a ban on the trade of Indian mongooses and their hair or any part of the body under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
It is possible that we might spot a mongoose with patches of its hair missing and never realise that the animal has survived live skinning. Any attempts at hunting and trading the animal or its fur can be reported to the Kerala Forest Department on the toll free number - 1800 425 4733.