Trade in Peacock Feathers

The peacock is India’s national bird and therefore enjoys protected status under Schedule I of The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The killing a peacock is strictly prohibited and as per section 51(1-A) attracts imprisonment which may extend to seven years and also a fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees. Despite this, there are stories of umpteen deaths and lesser numbers of
the specie is seen in places where they were in abundance earlier.

As the magnificent peacock is part of Hindu mythology, there was a time when
no one dared harm the hundreds of peafowl found in particular villages which were named after them, but the situation has changed due to intentional and non-intentional poaching.

The male bird’s regal beauty and courtship dance at the onset of the monsoon is unfortunately its own downfall because it fuels the desire in humans to own its feathers and knickknacks and trinkets made from them.

As the demand for peacock plumes grows, naturally shed long tail eyed feathers are simply not enough and peacocks are increasingly killed – a single peacock normally sheds 150-200 feathers annually.

Mercury based pesticides sprayed on seeds and crops (particularly by tomato growers) consumed by peacocks have resulted in their deaths. Initially termed “mysterious” and gone on to be called “accidental” one wonders how many are actually killed. In some places peacocks have allegedly dropped dead in the sweltering heat of summer due to water bodies drying, while others were said to have died due to consuming contaminated water released from industries nearby.

Finding scores of dead peafowl is becoming a frequent occurrence. The Forest Departments have also caught people who have poached them for their “novelty” meat of about one and half kilogram per bird.

Although peacocks are protected under the wildlife laws and export of their tail feathers and articles made from them continues to be banned by India and also under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), the gathering and selling (within the country) of claimed to be naturally shed peacock feathers, is not illegal. According to a 2008 study by Traffic India around 20 million peacock tail feathers are traded in annually and an entire community at Agra is involved in this trade. 

The government needs to realize that moulted peacock feathers and those which have been plucked out of a killed peacock look alike. Illegal trapping and killing is easy and lucrative with the added advantage of it not being illegal to sell peacock feathers and articles and trophies made from them. Poachers use bright lights to attract them on their path and catch them quickly as they can hardly fly.

For positive results, there has to be consistency in ruling. So again in 2010 Beauty Without Cruelty approached the Government of India to entirely ban the gathering, sale and use of peacock feathers. Initially in response to BWC’s request, the Ministry of Environment & Forests was in the process of banning the trade because it was brought to the ministry’s attention that demand for the feathers outstripped their supply, leading to rampant poaching of peacocks. They said amendments to Sections 43(3)(a) and 44 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 would no longer exempt those possessing a certificate of ownership for peacocks from transferring or selling their tail feathers, nor articles or trophies made from them. In fact a comprehensive ban on the sale, transfer and trade of peacock feathers was expected to be imposed expect for religious use.

Soon after BWC got to know that the expected ban on trade in peacock feathers would not come to pass because the Ministry of Environment & Forests sought comments from the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. They objected to the ban. Traffic India and the Bombay Natural History Society were also against the ban. Only BWC seems to have been in favour of the ban and feels that, at least, the dancers at the Commonwealth Games 2010 opening ceremony should not have adorned themselves with hundreds of peacock feathers.

Since the poaching of peacocks to meet the demand for feathers was on the rise, in 2014 the Ministry of Environment & Forests reiterated that the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, provided exemptions under Sections 43, 44(4) and 49(a) for transport, transfer and trade in peacock tail feathers for religious, cultural and traditional purposes within India. Although traders were exempted from declaring stocks of peacock feathers, they were not exempted from revealing the origin of the feathers because the bird was listed under Schedule I and killing peacocks or plucking their feathers was illegal and attracted appropriate punishment. If traces of blood were found on the base of the shaft of the feathers, it indicated that they were not naturally shed but plucked from the birds. But, BWC knows that feathers be easily cleaned of all traces of blood and wonders how one checks the majority of feathers whose shafts have been chopped off. A letter to this effect adding that our national bird should be treated exactly like all other animals listed under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 was sent by BWC to the Inspector General of Forests WL, urging to seriously reconsider imposing an immediate ban on trade. Any way, the Memorandum for Protection of the National Bird dated 7 May 2014 can be read here. It has at least succeeded in drawing the attention of all the forest officials and has made them aware of their duty to act against the exploitation. They have also been asked to give wide publicity to the fact that hunting peacocks is illegal.

In March 2015, BWC wrote to the Prime Minister, as well as to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, stating that the government should seriously reconsider imposing an immediate ban on trade of their feathers and protect the national bird just like it protects the tiger, India’s national animal, and all others that are listed under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Nothing happened. In fact, by 2016 bunches of loose peacock feathers were being openly taken out of the country by air passengers as part of their personal baggage. BWC therefore drew the attention of the Ministry’s Secretary and requested that a circular be sent to the authorities listing prohibited the wildlife products.

Join BWC’s campaign, and pledge not to sell, buy or use peacock feathers.

For detailed information on Peacocks please read

Page last updated on 11/04/16