Practice found to encourage poaching, illegal trade

In April 2008 a government enforcement agency in Kerala seized two live barn owls and a sand boa from a gang and released the animals later at undisclosed locations. The officials told mediapersons that one owl would fetch Rs. 2 lakh in some neighbouring countries where they are killed for black magic rituals. The news about the price tag on the bird triggered a barn owl trapping spree and soon the graceful bird, commonly seen in many parts of the State after dusk, became a rare sight. The enforcement agencies were able to intercept and rescue some, but many barn owls reached the hands of black magic practitioners.

Now in a welcome move, an official ban has been imposed on the system of assigning monetary value to wildlife and wildlife articles seized by the enforcement agencies. Directions in this connection, issued earlier this month by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, have been sent to all departments concerned of the Central and State governments.

Enforcement authorities can no longer assign a national or international monetary value to any seized animal or wildlife article such as elephant tusks and tiger skins, while presenting them before the media or even the judicial authorities. The ban applies to even value-added wildlife articles, bureau officials said.

The directions, signed by Shyam Bhagat Negi, Additional Director of the bureau, say that whenever wildlife or wildlife articles are seized by enforcement agencies there is a trend to assign monetary value to such articles. Since trade in wildlife articles is prohibited, there is no basis for such monetary valuation. The communication in this connection says that Indian wildlife is under stress from illegal trade which is demand-driven and primarily for profits. “Some of the habitual poachers revealed during their interrogations that they switched over to illegal wildlife trade from other criminal activities due to lower risks and perceived profits.”

A few first-time wildlife offenders said they took to the crime after reading about the high value of wildlife articles in newspapers. “Quoting international market prices for wildlife articles in no way adds value to the enforcement efforts. On the contrary, the practice may actually encourage poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” says the communication which calls for the immediate enforcement of the bureau’s direction.

If there is a system of rewards based on the value of the seized articles, it should be amended to exclude wildlife articles. The rewards should be based on work related to busting of organised wildlife criminal networks by taking into consideration the contribution towards prevention, apprehension, investigation and prosecution work related to wildlife crime.

“Press briefings on wildlife crime should highlight endangered status of the species involved, its role in ecology, and the impact of its loss on the environment instead of assigning a monetary value for it.”