‘Surviving the Odds – Combatting India’s Illegal Wildlife Trade is a short documentary film created as a ready-to-use explainer about India's illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and lists measures to tackle this issue. While we developed the documentary as a resource for enforcement agencies across India, it is an eye-opener for the larger audience highlighting the dire consequences of illegal trade in India and the alarming rate at which we are losing our biodiversity.
Wildlife in India is protected under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Despite this level of protection, seizure reports and data over the last two years suggest an average of twelve wildlife seizures per week through open access sources alone. “Wildlife crime cases are getting more attention over the recent years. However, there are many challenges ahead; we need to shift the focus to prevention and find solutions beyond just law enforcement”, says Uttara Mendiratta, Programme Head of the Counter Wildlife Trafficking team, WCS-India. Several community-level interactions are being undertaken to address the issue of hunting and poaching on the ground. Serlibon Timungpi, a Community Worker from west Karbi Anglong in Assam, believes, “Creating awareness within local communities will build an understanding of the importance of wild species and help garner support towards conservation.”
The nature of IWT is complex as the consumers, markets, drivers and modus operandi vary significantly for different species. We are aware of the international pressure on tiger populations due to the demand for their body parts and use in traditional Asian medicines. Imran Siddiqui, Programme Head - Eastern Ghats Team, WCS-India, adds, “Within India too, there is a demand for tiger nails as many Indians still believe it to be a symbol of power and status”. Certain species, such as the pangolin, suffer immensely due to the difficulty in monitoring their populations, making it impossible to study the impact of IWT. Vikram Aditya, a wildlife researcher at ATREE who studies the pangolin, states, “Our study shows that pangolin numbers have declined rapidly across the eastern ghats, similar to the trend in pangolin population across the world”.
The large-scale illegal wildlife trade is finding new avenues to expand its reach. The black-market trade in wildlife is fast evolving on the internet, creating new routes that support and fuel the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, IWT can potentially create gateways for zoonotic disease transmission to humans, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While talking about the film, Imrana Khan, the Executive Producer-Direction, Dusty Foot Productions, said, “Surviving the Odds – Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade is a self-explanatory documentary aiming to inculcate knowledge amongst multiple stakeholders, including enforcement agencies, about the illegal wildlife trade. COVID - 19 has reinforced the fact that the way ahead is to keep our natural systems intact, and that includes wildlife species remaining in the wild". The film released by WCS-India is produced by Dusty Foot Productions and developed by the Counter Wildlife Trafficking team of WCS-India. The film is available for viewing on WCS-India’s YouTube channel. Here is the link to the film: https://youtu.be/cyqr-Fh0mig
WCS-India’s Counter Wildlife Trafficking programme plays the role of a facilitator enabling govt officials to gain access to information, skill, technologies and expert support required to tackle wildlife-related crime in India. It supports mandated agencies to effectively prevent, detect, identify, investigate, arrest, prosecute and convict criminal organisations that perpetrate wildlife trafficking. A key takeaway from this documentary is the discussion on measures to reduce the illegal wildlife trade in India. It ends with hope for the future, with awareness and community engagement being the key factors in curbing this trade.