Poaching of Madras hedgehogs for ‘medicine’ raises alarm

Apart from its use in traditional medicine, habitat alteration, road accidents, and other anthropogenic activities are the reasons cited for the animals dying.

Published: 11th September 2021 03:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2021 03:23 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

COIMBATORE: The small insectivorous mammal that looks like a pincushion with legs, commonly known as Madras Hedgehog or the South Indian Hedgehog, is being killed in large numbers, according to experts, for use in traditional medicine.

The quills that grow as a thick layer on the back of the Paraechinus nudiventris, similar to that of the porcupine, are used in Siddha and other local remedies, and is the main reason these animals are killed. Experts called for a population study of the species and for it to be brought under the Wildlife Act to prevent poaching.

Known as mull-eli locally, translating to ‘thorn-mouse’, the species is commonly found in the southern part of the country. In many parts of TN, the animal’s quills are dried, powdered, and mixed with honey in traditional medicine a ‘cure’ for coughs.

D Raja Shankar, a Siddha doctor from Palayamkottai, who has been practicing for over two decades, said, “We have been providing both quill powder and a thailam (balm) to those presenting with cough.” He claimed that people who have taken the concoction have responded well and recovered. “It could be given to anyone, from a newborn to the elderly, and depending on their health, they will be cured,” he claimed.

Dr Brawin Kumar of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) at Tirupati, who spearheads research on the species, said cattle owners and the members of the public capture and kill the animals and give it to Siddha practitioners.

Apart from its use in traditional medicine, habitat alteration, road accidents, and other anthropogenic activities are the reasons cited for the animals dying. However, Brawin and forest officials said there are no official records on the numbers of the Madras hedgehog in the wild, making it difficult to protect the species.

A Madras Hedgehog which strayed into the house was handed over to the
corporation zoo in Coimbatore on Friday | Express

‘Bring Madras hedgehogs under ambit of Wildlife Protection Act’

“The Tamil Nadu Forest Department should initiate measures to identify its State-wide distribution and population. Likewise, the species also needs to be brought under the ambit of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) to shield it against uncontrolled poaching,” Brawin said.

“Currently, there is no restriction on people, including Siddha practitioners, from killing Madras Hedgehogs. We have seen many hedgehogs getting killed on roads after being run over by vehicles. It happens when the mammal comes out to get some sunlight and heat, which is essential for its body,” he added.

When contacted, Shekhar Kumar Niraj, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, said, “Currently, we do not have clear data on lesser-known species like hedgehogs, pangolins, monitor lizards, etc. We are focussing on generating such details with the help of conservationists, and are planning to get more information about the Madras Hedgehog from Brawin Kumar. We are also inviting other conservationists interested to share details on the species.”

Conservation plans
S Bharathidasan of Arulagam, an NGO involved in conservation of Madras Hedgehog, said, “The species benefits our farming community by consuming a broad array of insects. Not just in agricultural fields, hedgehogs were usually found even in barren land. Now, it has lost it habitat after people started putting up barbed fences.”

Apart from climate change, usage of pesticides in agricultural fields, noise pollution caused by audio-systems in temple festivals and other gatherings, too, play a part in the species shifting its range.
“We have been studying this phenomenon to establish inclusive conservation plans,” noted Brawin, adding that volunteers from his team have been conducting door-to-door surveys in locations where the species were found earlier, such as Coimbatore, Madurai, and Tenkasi.

The Union government in 2005 had declared open a conservation reserve in Tiruppadaimarathur village in Tirunelveli district. This was the first such community-based conservation initiative in India. Spanning about 2.84 hectares (7.0 acres), the reserve is a prime nesting-ground for birds.

“We need such strategies to protect population of the Madras Hedgehog since it predominantly occurs in non-protected landscapes. Places like Chennimalai and Upparu dam in Tiruppur district, too, hold substantial population of this species,” Brawin added.


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