From Panchatantra to stories written by Rudyard Kipling, the pages of fantasy are filled with tales of the mighty mongoose, a member of the animal kingdom that can fight the deadliest of snakes any day. Mongooses are resistant to the venom of the snake and their thick tuft of hair prevents the snake’s fangs from penetrating and causing them any harm. But while history has feared and revered these animals for their fearlessness against serpents, in modern times mongooses are losing the battle against a more formidable enemy — humans. One who does not bite, but rips the skin of the animal alive.
When you pick up your paintbrushes at home, you may be astonished to learn that some of these artistic tools come to you after a murderous tale of events. Every year hundreds of mongooses are killed in India to get their hair which is used to manufacture paint brushes. In fact, just to get 1 kg of hair, poachers kill as many as 50 mongooses!
Brush stained red
Conservationists who have been working undercover for years to bust gangs that trade in paintbrushes made with mongoose hair found that even today, stationers across the country store these brushes — some knowingly and some unknowingly. In a recent raid in Kolkata a man was caught with 1,300 of these brushes. The brushes are available online and are in high demand by artists and for make-up application.
But what is it about mongoose hair that makes it so popular as a paintbrush? Mongoose hair is stiff and therefore points steadily upwards in a brush. Therefore artists find these brushes very convenient to use with perfect flexibility and stiffness. However there is a torturous ritual that goes on to extract the precious hair of the mongoose.
Mongooses are usually found near fields where they feed on small rodents, snakes and insects. They help farmers get rid of rodents. Poachers keep a lookout for them and when they spot the animal, they either stone it to death or capture it in small cages. As soon as the animal is captured, the men get down to tearing the hair from its skin. The act is so brutal that sometimes the mongooses are de-haired even before they die. Each mongoose yields about 40 gm of hair but when the hair is sorted, only 20 gm of hair is found usable for making paint brushes. In less than five minutes a mongoose is captured, de-haired and left to die as capturers move on to find new prey.
Say no to mongoose
In 2002, the Indian Government accorded the mongoose protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. The species is accorded the same conservation status in India as the tiger and if anyone is found taking part in illegal trade related to the animal, he could spend up to seven years in jail.
But the mongoose’s skin can be saved (literally) only when you and people around you stop buying these brushes. The next time you buy a paintbrush remember to check the brushes that have a greyish shade with graded shades of brown on the tip and roots. Remember, there are alternatives available in the market. Brushes made of synthetic fibres work as well and haven’t come to you through violent means. The mongoose’s tough skin has saved it for centuries from a snake’s bite, but your vigilance can stop the cruelty the poor animal faces in the name of creativity.