Wildlife Conservation Society-India (WCS-India) works towards the conservation of wildlife and wild places through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. WCS-India’s Counter Wildlife Trafficking (CWT) Program aims to assist government agencies by providing access to information, skills, technology, and expert support to tackle wildlife crime in India.
Illegal wildlife trade is recognised as a serious transnational crime with an overall turnover of billions of dollars every year, requiring a coordinated effort by various enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to tackle it effectively. The CWT Program has been functional since 2019, with the support of the State Forest Departments, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, and other allied enforcement agencies who work on-ground to counter wildlife crime in the country.
31st January 2022: The report, ‘Media-reported wildlife poaching and illegal trade in India: 2020’ aims at providing the readers with a short, descriptive overview of illegal trade in wildlife across India for the year 2020. The data on wildlife crime events has been collected from online media articles, and the analysis has been carried out by the Counter Wildlife Trafficking Team of WCS-India.
Through this report, we also hope to highlight the role of effective enforcement, which has successfully detected a huge volume of illegal wildlife trade, and the role of the media that has been proactive in reporting wildlife crime cases. Through their persistent efforts, we can hope to understand and counter illegal wildlife trade in India.
Data was acquired through the daily collection of online media records of wildlife poaching and illegal trade incidents in India starting from January 1, 2020, until December 31, 2020, using Google search, Google alerts and GDELT (Global Database of Events, Language and Tone). A one-time comprehensive search for online media reports using keywords such as 'wildlife hunting’, 'wildlife poaching’, 'wildlife seizure’ in combination with species names like 'tiger’, 'pangolin’, 'rhino’, etc. was also undertaken. During instances when our searches yielded reports in regional languages, these were translated in-house or with the use of online tools such as google translate. Post data collection, media reports were tabulated, and cross-checked to account for possible duplicates within media reports that mention the same incident in different articles. Media reports were later grouped and analysed to check for spatial, temporal and species-specific patterns observed in 2020.
In addition to the major groups such as big cats, elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, marine wildlife, tortoises and freshwater turtles, that are regularly reported in illegal trade, we have also documented media-reported instances of poaching and illegal trade incidents involving birds, red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus), non-native wildlife, other mammals, other reptiles, and ungulates within the report. Documentation of marine species in illegal trade indicated sea cucumbers as the most frequently traded species. Seizures involving non-native or exotic wildlife included CITES Appendix I species - hyacinth macaw, and Appendix II species - hippopotamus, African elephant, keel-billed toucan, aldabra giant tortoise, red-handed tamarin, brown-headed parrot, and green iguana were also reported in the media in 2020.
According to Aristo Mendis, Lead Analyst of the CWT program at WCS-India, the team documented 522 unique instances of illegal hunting and trade of wildlife (reported across 714 online media reports) by scanning online open-source information for the year 2020. He further states that the results have to be interpreted with the consideration of variability in the availability and reporting of newspaper articles. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown may have also influenced how incidents were reported overall.
Among the incidents of wildlife poaching and illegal trade documented within the report, species that were most frequently reported in seizures include, pangolins (Indian or Chinese pangolin), Indian leopards, Asian elephants, red sandalwood, and softshell turtles (multiple species). Species of deer and antelope (multiple species, including chital, sambar, musk deer, barking deer, hog deer, blackbuck, chinkara, nilgai) were reported in 69 of the 89 documented ungulate-based seizure incidents. Notable lesser-known species recorded in seizure incidents include, monitor lizard, sand boa and various other species of snakes, parrots and bears (all multiple species; native origin).
Dr Imran Siddique, Program head Eastern Ghats program of WCS-India, comments on the report’s findings on multiple instances of snare-related deaths of big cats “Snaring is rampant in many forested landscapes as the costs for snaring or electrocution are very meagre needing only iron wires and often get undetected as it happens at night randomly in remotest locations.
Nirmal Kulkarni, Sr Consultant CWT program of WCS-India, highlights the fact that “The report has importantly, once again brought forth the need for focussed attention for reducing illegal wildlife trade to lesser-known species like snakes, lizards, arachnids and freshwater turtles and tortoises in North East and the Western Ghats parts of India”.
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on wildlife, Sunil Limaye IFS, PCCF (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden of Maharashtra states that, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of people and wildlife alike. In a biodiversity-rich country like ours in which people and wildlife continue to coexist at varying degrees, the report summarises media coverage on illegal wildlife trade and how enforcement agencies have worked towards deterring wildlife crime in the country”.
According to WCS-India’s Conservation Advisor, Dev Prakash Bankhwal, there is a lack of documentation on how wildlife species are affected by poaching and illegal trade in North East India's protected areas, and it is a cause of concern. Dev Prakash Bankhwal is a retired IFS officer who served as the PCCF (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam till January 2019.
Uttara Mendiratta, Program Head, CWT program, states, “This report is a result of an ongoing effort by the team to systematically collect and analyse data on illegal wildlife trade using readily available media articles on enforcement action. We hope that this report will provide to government agencies and policy-makers an insight into the current and emerging trend and help plan strategies to reduce illegal trade in endangered species in the country."
This report will be shared with enforcement agencies and conservation partners in India for a better understanding of current trends in illegal wildlife trade in India in the backdrop of the prevalent COVID -19 pandemic.
Read the full report here: https://doi.org/10.19121/2021.Report.40773
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