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SOS Rhino : In the News : Trapped in a charm

Trapped in a charm

  Newwindpress on Sunday
New Delhi
8 August 2003
Maneka Gandhi

Nakhas, Lucknow, has a huge illegal market for wild birds and animals. Nothing is spared, right down to the helpless Sarus crane, which is blinded and sold to collectors.

Hundreds of people throng this market for pigeon blood too, thanks to the 'medicine men' of the area propagating the belief that it can cure arthritis. Thousands of pigeons are killed in front of the customers, who collect the blood and smear it on their knees. The carcasses are then thrown into the garbage, where they are devoured by dogs.

Though illegal under the Wildlife Protection Act, the trade continues daily right under the noses of the Wildlife Department. In fact, this inhuman practice has become so popular that it was recently glorified on Teesri Ankh, a programme on DD 1.

Elsewhere in Kerala, itÍs not strange to find queues of men at the crack of dawn, holding tumblers and awaiting their turn on the sandy shores. The line leads to a beautiful old turtle which has been turned on its back, with its stomach slashed open. These men dip their tumblers into the blood and drink deeply, hoping for a lifetime of manly vigor.

Every town has a thriving market of wild animals that are being killed for 'medicinal and aphrodisiac purposes'. Some are killed for amulets, which bring good luck. I have nailed a man in Delhi who had boxes full of the feet of owls, which he sold for Rs 200 each as 'taveezes' (talismans). When caught, he had one live owl and the body of another that had just been killed.

A huge favourite when it comes to charms is bear hair and nails, obviously yanked out from live bears. Crows come second, killed to remove bad luck on a house. In Chennai, itÍs cats and squirrels, and in Madhya Pradesh, itÍs black hens.

There's also the aphrodisiac market for wild animals. All it takes is one illiterate mendicant to announce that the potion made from a particular animal part can improve a manÍs sex life. In no time, the poor animal heads the most wanted list. In little towns in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, eggs are usually sold on handcarts in the evenings. These are eaten by men going home from their work to 'invigorate' themselves for the evening ahead. An animal that is severely endangered in India for this very reason is the rhinoceros. It is killed for the matted hair on its nose, which people like to call 'horns', and this is boiled to make the supposed aphrodisiac.

In the old parts of each city in India, youÍll find lizards being roasted alive on iron tavas, squirming in pain. Their 'sweat' is sold as an aphrodisiac and each lizard is roasted several times before it dies. Monitor lizards, caught for this very purpose in the deserts of Rajasthan, have their spines broken to prevent escape.

All this makes me wonder at our awareness of 'prevention of cruelty to animals' Acts. For instance, do you know of the existence of The Drug and Magic Remedies Act 1954, which makes it illegal to sell miracle cures „ magic potions that have no basis in medical science? Even advertising such specious claims is illegal and punishable under law. So why then is there a a flourishing trade in lizard oil for body aches, live fish for asthma and all sorts of unmentionable animal parts for aphrodisiacs?

Both private and government-owned media are responsible for carrying advertisements publicising these fraudulent claims, and as a result millions of animals are tortured and killed.

So the next time you see anyone either practising or publicising a magic remedy, be sure to report them under this Act. Do your bit as a rational and compassionate human being to stop random killing of helpless creatures.

To join the animal welfare movement, contact Mrs Gandhi at 14 Ashoka Road, New Delhi 110001 or