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The crisis of illegal wildlife trade has touched alarming global proportions. In the past one year , more than 600 animals have been poached in India, these include tigers, leopards, rhinos and a number of exotic birds and reptiles.
The Indian Board of Wild Life observes the World Wildlife Week every year with an aim to spread general awareness among people about the serious poaching crisis in India and the need to protect endangered animals.
Root cause for poaching
India is home to some of the most rare species, however, wildlife poachers have pushed the life of these animals to the brink of extinction. Scores of rare animals have been vanishing because of wildlife poachers.
Poaching refers to hunting and illegal trade of exotic animals for commercial gain and sometimes just for the thrill of hunting down animals, and preserving the kill as trophies.In countries like India, South Africa and Indonesia, the main motive behind this practice is acute poverty among the forest communities and more importantly the surging demand for these endangered animals in the international market.
The illegal trafficking of wildlife falls within the bracket of transnational organised environmental crimes and individual estimates from the UNEP, OECD and the INTERPOL place the earnings from this trade at 70-23 billion dollars annually.The mitigation of this crisis is complicated because of the multidimensional issues of poverty, loopholes in governance and poor implementation of laws.
The primary cause for the large scale poaching and habitat loss of Tigers is the perceived health benefits from its products. Most of the poaching is carried out by tribal communities. At the beginning of the 20th century India had an estimated number of 40,000 tigers and today there are merely 3,200 wild tigers. The 400 million dollar Project Tiger of the Indian government launched in the year 1973 has done little to curb the scourge of the illegal hunting of tigers.
Most of the killings have been attributed to a single tribal community called Phardis found mostly in Maharashtera and parts of Madhya Pardesh.The international wildlife trafficking rings rely mostly on this community for delivering tiger skins, flesh and bones for sale in the markets abroad.
The worlds last remaining great one-horned rhinoceroses is found only in Assam . There are less than 50 one-horned rhinoceros remaining in India at present. The horns of these Rhinos are sold as weapons for militant activities.
Most of the hunting in Assam is aided by militant organization like the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers who organize the hunts and provide poachers AK-47s to hunt them down. the forest guards are constantly battling the militant group and their exploits.
Pangolins known as ‘scaly anteaters’ are burrowing animals covered in scales. The word Pangolin comes from ‘penggulung’ the Malay word for roller, which is a self-defense tactic of the animal. It is the only mammal to be fully covered in scales and is mostly found in the Western Ghats like Karwar and Chikmagalur.
It is considered to be the most hunted animal in the world. More than 100,000 Pangolins are captured every year and shipped to China and Vietnam where their meat and scales are sold reports the Telegraph . Pangolin scales are mostly smuggled from India. The scales are believed to be a cure for several medical conditions. A kilogram of Pangolin scales is worth Rs 10,000 in local markets. The minimum penalty for people caught poaching Pangolin is up to three years of imprisonment.
The market for illegal trade of wildlife has increased exorbitantly over the years. The primary reason for India to turn into a hub for the wildlife trafficking is the weak law enforcement mechanism.The Wildlife Protection Act has stipulated strict punishments which include prison terms and fines.The main impediment is the lack of coordination between the administration and law enforcement, which complicates the process of mitigating poaching.
The problem of poaching is multi-faceted, it not only affects animals but also the entire ecosystem. Following the ideals of the likes of Bishnoi community from Rajisthan, who believe in empowering and educating the entire community about preserving nature and the wildlife, could put an end to the rampant problem of poaching.