On a mission to protect hedgehogs

Brawin Kumar, who has been studying the animal in T.N., says it needs protection

There was a time in Kanniyakumari when parents would treat persistent cough in children with “Mulleli thailam”, a medicated oil made with the spine of south Indian hedgehogs or the Madras hedgehogs. The practice still continues in many parts.

“Though there is no scientific basis for the treatment, as the preparation has not been subjected to lipid or enzyme profile tests, the practice is among the factors that has contributed to the decline of the small mammal,” said R. Brawin Kumar, who has been tracking and studying the animal in the State.

A native of Samithoppu in Kanniyakumari district, Mr. Kumar obtained a PhD from the Institute of Zoology in Beijing on desert rabbits. He said the decline in the population of the animal should be stopped, as it has a role in controlling insects.

At present, he is working for the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Tirupati, and his articles on the mammal have been published in several scientific magazines. The Guardian has reviewed his book for children, Mullikattu ithikasam.

While there are 17 types of hedgehogs across the world, India houses three species, of which one is endemic to south India. The animal lives in barren, arid and semi-arid lands, bushes and dry areas, associated with windmills and Theri land, particularly where palm trees grow in large numbers.

The animal, weighing around 500 g, also lives close to human settlements. It is found in Erode, Karur, Coimbatore and the southern districts.

“The Eastern Ghats is one of its habitats. It hides under the fronds of palm trees,” said Mr. Kumar, acknowledging the support of IDEAWILD, which has given him cameras and other equipment for tracking the animal.

Unlike the hedgehogs elsewhere, the Madras hedgehogs do not hibernate, but estivate. “They become victims to road accidents too,” he said.

There are 428 mammals in India, and 50% of them are small. “There is still no proper study of their habitats and ecology. Wildlife conservation, more often than not, involves big animals. But ecological balance requires the protection of all animals. Community-driven conservation efforts are needed,” he said.

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