Mongoose face poaching threat for the painters brush

We often cite the rivalry between the mongoose and the snake as an allegory for vicious fights. This is not without reason. They make the hardest opponents leaving little to chance when confronting each other. The mongoose belongs to the herpestidae family; its name is derived from the Marathi word mangus. It is a witty and fast animal that repeatedly attacks the snake in a combat, exhausting the prey before crushing its spine. Mongooses are immune to snake venom, which is basically a modified form of saliva released by the snake’s acetylcholine receptor. However, the same protein is present in the mongoose in a different genetic sequence, rendering snake venom ineffective, according to Sara Fuchs of the immunology department at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Yet, there are times when certain mongooses that are not resistant to venom, get killed. Only the Indian grey mongoose demonstrates resistance to venom.

Contrary to popular belief, mongooses don’t rely on snake meat alone, but also feed on a varied diet of fruits, nuts, eggs and small animals. There are about 33 different types of mongoose around the world, primarily in Africa, southern Europe and Asia. India has six different types classified brown, grey, small Asian mongoose, rudy mongoose, crab-eating mongoose and the striped neck mongoose.

In Ranthambhore, I have had few interesting encounters with these little animals. Once a Bonelli’s eagle hunted down a mongoose on open grassland, flying off a good distance with the creature after a few tries, before completing its meal. Hunters often kill this beautiful creature for its soft hair that artists use as painting brush. Poachers say they sell mongoose hair for up to Rs 2,000 a kg. At least 30 mongooses need to be slaughtered to fetch a kg of hair.

Last week, the forest department in Agra recovered 156 mongoose hair paintbrushes on a tip-off from wildlife activist Naresh Kadyan of OIPA. One can imagine the brutality that these animals face; the hunter tribes consume their meat. It is not too difficult to hunt these creatures as they can be caught by simple rattraps. While the mongoose proliferates rapidly and is not a threatened species, it faces fast depletion of habitat.

Some people also tame mongooses as pets to protect their crops and homes from snakes and rodents. In 1872 a sugarcane farmer introduced the mongoose on a Hawaiian island to protect his crop from rodents. However, as the animals being more active in day, they were hardly effective against rodents at night. Soon they escaped and proliferated across the island, foraging on bird eggs and other native species that led to the rapid decline of native species. Both rat and mongooses transfer leptospirosis through their droppings in water. This small animal does not need a large area to thrive, or a massive infrastructure for protection. All we need is to understand its ecosystem and avoid using animal products to feed our passions.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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