Caught between custom and conservation

Tirumala temple wants to breed Small Indian Civet for perfume, but A.P. Forest Department seeks control

March 05, 2017 12:36 am | Updated 12:36 am IST - Tirupati

A Small Indian Civet in Thiruvananthapuram.

A Small Indian Civet in Thiruvananthapuram.

The custom at Sri Venkateswara temple at Tirumala, of using a fragrance derived from the Small Indian Civet in the deity’s worship, faces a challenge as the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) and the A.P. Forest Department remain at loggerheads on captive breeding of the animal.

The civet is caught in a decade-long row over supply of its glandular ‘punugu’ secretion that weighs less than a gram.

The yellow substance from its perineal gland gets encrusted when dry and is ejected when the animal rubs against a hard surface.

The fragrance is used for ‘abhishekam’ of Lord Venkateswara. The temple has a ‘Punugu Ginne Seva’ (offering in a vessel), where select devotees can touch the civet pooja vessel. The secretion is mixed with gingelly oil and heated to get an aromatic gel.

The tussle started a decade ago, when the TTD was rearing two pairs of civets at its dairy farm in Tirupati. The animal is in part two, Schedule II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, that prohibits domestication. The Forest department seized the civets and registered a case against the TTD, that was later quashed. At a meeting held in November 2006, it was decided that TTD would fund a nocturnal animal house at Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park, to be maintained by the Forest Department.

However, the TTD insisted that the house be maintained by its own forest unit (led by a Forest Service officer) using its own fund of ₹10 lakh a year, to provide a continuous supply.

“The TTD is ready to maintain the house, and it is also okay if the Forest Department does it and agrees to provide the civet on a regular basis,” says TTD executive officer D. Sambasiva Rao. But the Forest department disagreed. “Even today we are ready to take up construction if TTD gives funds”, says P.V. Chalapathi Rao, Chief Conservator of Forests (Tirupati Wildlife Management Circle).

The department filed a charge sheet against TTD and seized the civets in 2008. After a four-year trial, a local court held TTD officials not guilty. Another criminal case was registered in 2013, which was also dismissed. “The civet cats are in the SV zoo,” curator Y. Srinivasa Reddy said.

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