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Poaching and Illegal wildlife trade in India

Poaching and Illegal wildlife trade in India
India is a bio-diverse country, with nearly 6.5% of the world's known wildlife
species. Approximately, 7.6% of the world's mammals and 12.6% of the world's
birds are found in India. The illicit demand, globally, for wildlife and its products
has seen the rise of wildlife crime across the subcontinent.
As defined by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime
(ICCWC), wildlife crime refers to acts committed contrary to national laws and
regulations intended to protect natural resources and to administer their
management and use. This includes the illicit exploitation of natural resources,
such as poaching of animals and unauthorized logging of trees. It may also
include subsequent acts, such as the processing of fauna and flora into products,
their transportation, sale and possession.
What is Poaching?
Poaching describes the illegal capture of wildlife under local, national, or
international law. Poaching may include hunting animals without a license or
with prohibited tools, stealing wildlife-related products, trapping fish and plants
from private property or protected areas.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), wildlife trafficking is
worth an estimated £15 billion per annum1.
Since India is not only a major source, but also a transit, and destination country
for trafficked wildlife and wildlife products, a large number of species are
illegally transported out of and into the country. According to the Smuggling in
India report 2020–212, the DRI’s (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) most
common wildlife and wildlife products that were seized from being smuggled out
of India are ivory, turtles and tortoises (especially the Indian star tortoise), and
red sandalwood (red sanders or lalchandan). Lately, there has been a decline in
rhino horn trading from India; however, the country is fast becoming a major hub
for pangolin poaching and trafficking.
(A pangolin brought to the Range Office at Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger
Reserve, Tamil Nadu. Pangolin poaching is on the rise in India. Photo3 by A J T
Johnsingh/Wikimedia Commons.)
Legal Loopholes
In India, there is a legal lacuna as trade of exotic animals don’t come under the
purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This often makes it difficult to
prosecute people involved in exotic animal’s trade.
“The purpose of the Wildlife Protection Act was to primarily ensure protection
of Indian wildlife. Being member of CITES4 since 1976, we have an international
obligation to protect endangered species of other countries as well. In our country,
CITES is implemented through Customs Act, 1962. The provisions of Customs
Act can only be applied when there is a crossing of international border or
smuggling is clearly made out. So, if an exotic animal is 100 km inside the
territory of our country and it can’t be clearly established that it has been
smuggled in, we don’t have any legislation to prosecute the offenders.
Example: The two persons arrested in Cachar last year after rare animals like
kangaroos, macaws, and Aldabra tortoises were seized from their truck later got
bail from the Gauhati High Court. The court observed, “as seized animals do not
come under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the detention of
the petitioners would not be permissible under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
and, since the only case registered against the petitioners is under the Wildlife
(Protection) Act, 1972, the Court is of the view that the petitioners will be entitled
to go on bail vis a vis the aforesaid case under the Wildlife (Protection ) Act, 1972
unless wanted in connection with any other case.”
On 18 October 1976 India became a party to CITES sometimes known as the Endangered Species Convention
or the Washington Convention. The Director of Wildlife Preservation (now Wildlife Crime Control Bureau),
Government of India is the Management Authority for CITES in India
A commonly exploited loophole in the Wildlife Protection Act is the provision
for self-defence, which is often abused and can easily be claimed whilst hunting
wildlife. 28 Section 11(2) of the Wildlife Protection Act states that “The killing
or wounding in good faith of any wild animal in defence of oneself or any other
person shall not be an offence” This allows many forest dwellers who hunt
animals with rudimentary weapons to merely claim self-defence when caught and
get away with it, simply because the burden of proof does not lie on them to prove
that they were not hunting the animal. Thus the efforts of vigilant forest guards
are often defeated in court when the plea of self-defence is sustained simply
because of the obvious lack of insurmountable evidence that they were hunting
the animal. The incentive for killing an animal needs to be completely eliminated
in the cases of killing wildlife for self-defence so that the cases where animals are
hunted and self-defence is claimed can be curbed.
Most common routes for Tariffing
International wildlife trafficking into and out of India mainly occurs through two
routes – one, through the long international border along the Northeast, and the
other, through airports. The 2018 TRAFFIC5 report In Plane Sight notes that
TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in
the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. In India, TRAFFIC operates as a
programme division of WWF-India.
trafficking in rhino horns, tiger parts, and pangolin scales is especially rampant
in the Indo-Nepal, and Indo-Myanmar-China borders, with Northeast Indian
cities such as Dimapur, Guwahati and Imphal being used a transit sites.
The Indian star tortoise, which is the most trafficked reptile in the world, is
supplied from trade hubs in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Tamil
Nadu, to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, primarily by air. Seizure data from
the website Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Trade of Endangered Species
(ROUTES) shows that more than 54% of the trafficked animals were in checkedin luggage6 and about 11% in air cargo.