Kolkata | That beautiful painting you saw at an art gallery last week may be ‘blood-stained’ as thousands of mongoose are mercilessly killed each year to make paintbrushes from the animal’s hair. Eminent painter Sanatan Dinda, who has sketched for the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, admits that unlike him many artists are not aware of the story behind the brush they use.
It is a very old tradition to use mongoose brushes. Nowadays the awareness for conservation has increased but lot of artists still insist on using it because it is soft and absorbs colour very well, he said. Dinda has now joined hands with the Society for Heritage & Ecological Researches (SHER) and the American Center, Kolkata, to become part of a ‘Save the Mongoose’ campaign. Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC-India, a wildlife trade monitoring network, points out that thousands of mongoose are killed all over the country each year to meet the demand for paintbrush hair.
It is estimated that to obtain one kg of mongoose hair at least 50 animals are killed. The illicit trade thrives particularly in states like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Bihar. Hunting communities either shoot them or lay a trap after which they are beaten to death so that their hair can be extracted for commercial use.
This means make-up artists, painters and even children in many countries are unwitting accomplices to this trade in India. India is considered a major source of illegally exported mongoose hair, Dr Niraj said. Trade sources indicate that mongoose hair is smuggled to the Middle East, USA, and European countries. Lately, Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh routes have also been found lucrative by smugglers.
Hunting or trade in mongoose and its parts and derivatives in India is an offence as the Indian Grey Mongoose is listed in Schedule II of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 while the other five mongoose species are listed in Schedule IV. Although most shops do not sell these mongoose brushes openly but in a recent survey by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in Kerala it was found being sold without any fear.
It is supplied in many art colleges in India. In Delhi University, I have seen it being used by students. They do not know that the paintbrush they are using is from mongoose, Jose Louies, who leads WTI’s enforcement team, said. Many leading suppliers sell them as sable brushes, badger brushes or Kevrin brushes. Mongoose brushes are regarded as best for doing fine artistic work and giving finishing touches to an art piece.
Unlike other brushes, mongoose hair brush does not lose its shape even after continuous use while others tend to sag. Washing is also easy as the brush doesn’t retain any colour. The ecological impact of the loss of mongoose can be immense because the animal is a good predator of snakes and rodents, found in varied geographies. Mongoose are anyways struck by the loss of habitat. Whether in urban spaces or in farmlands, they help us keep a check on the population of rodents and snakes, Louies said.
The best alternative, say experts, is synthetic brushes but awareness amongst the art community is the biggest challenge. Wildlife conservation body SHER plans to come up with a sustained campaign with art colleges and artists on the issue. Dinda, who used such mongoose brushes during his art college days, now has a display of his old brushes in his studio.
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