“Jackal horn” – locally referred to as siyar singhi, gidar singhi or nari kombu – is considered a lucky charm by some and is used in black magic and astrology. While there is a popular belief that horns in golden jackals might be rare protrusions, there is no evidence to substantiate this claim and the demand for jackal horns has in fact led to poaching of golden jackals across India.

“Jackal horn” is an artificial product that is put together by hunters and poachers using mud, skin and tufts of hair from jackals or goats that are stuck together in the shape of a ball, to which carved pieces of horns or hooves from cattle are attached.

“It [siyar singhi] is a fake wildlife product and we book cases under [Section] 420 of the [Code of Criminal Procedure] because those who trade in this product are mostly aware of the fact that it is fake and are befooling people,” said HV Girisha, regional deputy director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

Nevertheless, the product is widely sought, marketted on social media and sold on e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and eBay, according to a paper published last month.

The study

The study was conducted by analysing publicly accessible seizure data of jackal products, relevant news reports, social media posts and e-commerce platforms engaged in the trade or advertisement of jackal products.

“The study was a starting point to document poaching, hunting and trade incidences of jackals in India occurring between 2013 and 2019 using publicly available wildlife seizure data,” said Malaika Mathew Chawla, the lead author of the paper. Chawla, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at James Cook University, Australia, is also a member of the Wild Canids–India Project that’s aimed at making ecological and conservation assessments of wild canids, including the golden jackal, in India.

‘Jackal horn’ is a fake wildlife product marketted on social media and e-commerce sites. Credit: Malaika Mathew Chawla, et al, via Mongabay

Since jackals are found all over the country, there have been reports of poaching and trade from across India. Between 2013 and 2019, 126 skins, eight tails, more than 370 “jackal horns”, 16 skulls and two live jackals have been seized by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, write the authors in the paper.

On mapping state-wise poaching and trade occurrences, the researchers note that the highest number of news reports and advertisements featuring sale, trade or seizure of jackal body parts –including skin, tails, ‘horns’, and teeth, – originated from Rajasthan, followed by Tamil Nadu. As for the horns, news reports about seizures and advertisements featuring sale were found across Southern and Central India as well.

The authors though add a disclaimer: there is an inherent bias in sourcing information on trafficking from media reports. “A high level of wildlife crime reporting from a particular state does not necessarily mean that there are more crimes in that state,” Chawla said. “It may just mean that wildlife enforcement agencies are more active or public awareness of wildlife crimes is higher in that region,” she added.

A pack of golden jackals. Credit: Ramki Sreenivasan/Mongabay

Scale and scope

“Jackals are mainly poached for their meat by communities in Haryana, Rajasthan, parts of Bundelkhand… basically, the drier regions in the central Indian landscape,” Girisha said.

Apart from meat, the other products that are sought are jackal pelts for fur trade or use in sorcery practices, organs for use in traditional medicine and nails, teeth, skulls and tails that some believe brings good luck and prosperity, said Arjun Srivathsa, one of the authors of the paper.

Srivathsa is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida, a research associate with WCS-India and a member of the Wild Canids–India Project. As part of the Wild Canids project, the authors have assessed the conservation status of golden jackals in India as “likely stable”.

This, however, is based on a disclaimer that while golden jackals may have a wide distribution across the Indian landscape, there are “no scientifically robust studies” as of today that have estimated jackal populations in India, Srivathsa said.

“Our study posits that jackal poaching is an issue in India, and maybe quite pervasive,” Srivathsa added.

Chawla also noted that the lack of detailed seizure data limited the team from undertaking an in-depth study about trade routes, nature of the product – whether real or fake.

When asked if such seizure data could be made available on the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau website, Girisha said that this move would certainly be beneficial. The team will consider making such data available, given the need to raise awareness about the trade in jackals among both enforcement agencies and the general public, specifically consumers of jackal horn.

Raising awareness

Girisha also noted that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is currently working towards increasing awareness about jackal poaching in the country among those engaged in enforcement activities and among village communities. “We have been conducting a lot of capacity-building programmes and other trainings and awareness campaigns for village communities and gram pradhans and enforcement squads like [the Central Reserve Police Force] and customs officials,” he said.

The authors of the paper have also been working with the Counter Wildlife Trafficking team at Wildlife Conservation Society–India to create educational material about jackal poaching and trade, which is now being used for training enforcement agencies in protocols to follow up on detection and seizure of jackal parts.

Additionally, the bureau is also working with nodal officers at various e-commerce portals, including Amazon India, with regular meetings where actionable information like keywords that hint at wildlife trade are flagged as causes of concern, Girisha said.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.