By Chandan Das for Khabar South Asia in Jamshedpur
August 28, 2012
Acknowledging that the problem cannot be fought effectively by any one country, India and other South Asian nations are working together to combat wildlife poaching – an illegal but lucrative trade which bets an estimated Rs 1.1 trillion ($20 billion) annually.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Director for West Bengal, S Sen, explained the cross-regional nature of the problem.
“The greatest test faced by us is combating the extremely well-structured, illegal wildlife trade arrangements between poachers, domestic traders and worldwide wildlife product dealers,” he told Khabar South Asia.
The problem has been further exacerbated by the highly porous borders between several countries in the region. “Therefore, it is not possible for any single nation to curb such illegal activities on its own.”
Animals across the subcontinent are hunted down for the trade in bones, flesh, skin and fur. Animal parts find their way into medicine, clothing and even into the exotic food industry.
The methods used by poachers are gruesome, with many animals skinned or dehorned while still alive.
Numerous species are affected, according to the MEoF report.
Elephants, tigers, both common and snow leopards, pangolins, one-horned rhinos, reptiles, deer, Hornbills, peacocks, parakeets, parrot birds, star tortoises and sea horses are all species at severe risk from poaching, the study found.
Speaking to Khabar, Jharkhand Principal Forest Conservator A.K. Singh said the local authorities face a daunting challenge.
“Our people are not well equipped. We lack sophisticated arms, modern vehicles, manpower as well as funds,” Singh said. “Can you imagine that one ranger is expected to look after 20sq km of forest area?”
A separate report from the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India (NTCA) report notes more than 48 Bengal tigers were found dead throughout India since January 1st, with at least 19 of them known to have been killed by poachers.
Often wildlife are captured or slain in one country, stocked in another and then shipped elsewhere. For example, Nepal has become a transit point for tiger parts being shipped to East China, the MEoF said.
Countries working to build a united front
The urgency of the issue has prompted South Asian nations to undertake joint initiatives and build co-operation. The process kicked off in 1982 when eight countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – joined the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) to establish regional co-operation aimed at checking the illicit wildlife trade.
In 2008, representatives of South Asian countries gathered in Kathmandu again for a two-day South Asia Wildlife Trade Initiative (SAWTI) regional workshop. Two years later, again in Kathmandu, they held the inaugural meeting of the Illegal Wildlife Trade in South Asia, launching a concerted effort to stem the menace.
With input from TRAFFIC, the network monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund, the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network was formed to improve networking among the eight nations, resulting in the liberation of up to 28,000 animals and multi-year prison convictions for wildlife smugglers.
“The conformity at SAWTI lays the foundations for a collaborative endeavour to launch an onslaught on the illicit wildlife trade,” SACEP Director General S.M.D.P. Anura Jayatilake said, “as well as to organise the controlling of wild species that may be traded legally as per the national laws in the region.”
Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan told Khabar that India also has entered into a tiger conservation protocol agreement with China.
“China and India have agreed that the prohibition of sale of tiger body parts should continue,” Natarajan said.