Elephant dung is selling like hot cake at the famous annual cattle fair here for use as a mosquito repellent and also as fuel.
The high demand for elephant dung as a mosquito repellent has made it much sought after at this cattle fair, about 35 km from Bihar capital Patna. "We are selling elephant dung; it is in high demand," Arvind Kumar Singh, owner of an elephant told IANS here.
He said villagers have traditionally bought elephant dung to use as mosquito repellent. When it's burnt, the smoke is considered as an instant killer of mosquitoes.
"Elephant dung is the cheapest mosquito repellent. And like herbal medicines, it has no side effects," says Maheshwar Rai, a cattle farmer who bought five kg for Rs. 20.
Rai said that he would use the dung "to save my family and half a dozen cows from the mosquito menace, which becomes very bad in early winter".
Another buyer, Satyendra Mahato of neighbouring Vaishali district, said that elephant dung is more effective than any other mosquito repellent available in the market. "Ten kg of elephant dung is enough for my family to get rid of mosquitoes and keep us warm on winter nights."
Akhilesh Kumar, the mahout (caretaker) of an elephant, said that he collects the dung every night and sells it in the day. "It is a business for us, just like cow owners sell milk."
Mithilesh Kumar, a forest department official on duty at the cattle fair, said that the demand for elephant dung was far higher this year. "Earlier there were a few buyers who used to take it away at throwaway prices."
"People prefer elephant dung as a mosquito repellent because it does not pollute," he added.
Over 70 elephants are at the fair this year. They are brought here for show, as their sale at the fair is banned under wildlife protection laws, said another forest department official, C.P. Khanduja. Elephants are big attractions at the fair, especially for tourists.
But there are unofficial reports that elephants are bought and sold at the fair in the garb of gifting them.
The nearly-month-long fair, spread across 500 acres near the confluence of two rivers - the Ganga and the Gandak - has been held every year for centuries.
The fair, which begins on the auspicious Kartiki Purnima day, is perhaps the only one of its kind in the entire sub-continent where many birds and animals - including parrots, eagles, elephants, horses, sheep, goats and buffaloes - are bought and sold.