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India’s Egrets under threat from demand for feathers for social occasions

14/10/2013 10:29:23

The advertisement in newspapers in the Mumbai paper talks about an “Exclusive Wedding Collection”, where the bridegroom sports egret feathers on his headgear

Wildlife parts used during social events
October 2013. Trade in wildlife parts and the resultant poaching continues to be a major threat in the survival of several species of fauna in India and around much of the world.

Egrets are one of the species targeted by poachers, whose feathers are used as ornamental decorations on several social and festive occasions in India. Ornithologists at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) have highlighted an advertisement and a news item in the Mumbai edition of newspapers recently that depict the use of egret feathers on social and festive occasions (see image).

The advertisement in newspapers in the Mumbai paper talks about an "Exclusive Wedding Collection", where the bridegroom sports egret feathers on his headgear. All egret species found in India are protected under the Schedule-IV of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, amended in 1990-91 and killing them is a punishable offence. BNHS-India is of the view that fashion and decoration on social occasions should not harm wildlife. Commenting on the issue, BNHS spokesperson said, "Wildlife Protection Act should be strictly implemented to ensure that birds and animals are not poached for catering to the demand for wildlife products".

Egret feathers
The ornamental plumes of egrets are known in the wildlife trade as "aigrettes" or "ospreys". These are often used as decorative materials during social and festive occasions. March and September are breeding seasons for egrets. That is when they grow the breeding plumage, which is in demand. Gulgulawa and Kurmi-Baheliya communities from eastern India poach egrets and sell their feathers to middlemen and retailers, to sell on to the public.

Flying feathers or primaries of egrets are often used for decorating the Dhaki (drum) used by the traditional drummers on festive occasions, whereas "aigrettes" are used as ornamentation on headgear during social events such as weddings.

It is an irony that post-harvest festivals that are originally meant to celebrate the natural beauty and the bountiful crops in the post monsoon season should be used as occasions to display egret feathers. This is against the traditional Indian ethos of living in harmony with nature, where every living and non-living entity was considered sacred. This is also against the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

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