Atiq Khan

State a haven for organised crime syndicates

Illegal wildlife trade is not limited to tiger parts

Better policing required in border areas

LUCKNOW: With wildlife trade emerging as a global multi-billion dollar industry with an estimated turnover of around 20 billion US dollars, next only to narcotics trade, and India being used as a “super market”, several animal species have been pushed towards extinction. Notably the majestic tiger (Panthera Tigris), whose parts remain the most sought after commodity in the international market, particularly in China.

The Big Cat has already vanished from Sariska and is on way to disappearing from Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh, largely on account of depredations of poachers and organised wildlife crime syndicates. However, the illegal wildlife trade is not limited to tiger parts. Leopard and otter skins, mongoose hair, elephant tusks, turtles, crocodiles and even snakes figure in the consignment of wildlife crime traffickers.

Even as India figures prominently in the route map of organised wildlife crime, Uttar Pradesh has emerged as the nerve centre of the illegal trade in wild animals. At a seminar on “Wildlife Crime Detection and Prevention” organised by the U.P. Forest Department in collaboration with Wildlife SOS here this past week, Uttar Pradesh was described as a haven for organised crime syndicates.

Seizures made in the last one year from Khaga in Fatehpur, Pratapgarh, Ballia, Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Agra point to the existence of well-entrenched poachers and their patrons.

In her presentation on wildlife crime, the Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Belinda Wright, observed that U.P. has an important role in solving the problem of illegal wildlife trade. Ms. Wright said organised crime had its feet firmly planted in the State with leading criminals based in places like Lucknow, Kanpur and Agra.

Conviction rate

She said poaching was localised earlier but the seizure of three tiger skins, 50 leopard skins and five otter skins in Ghaziabad in 1999 provided the first evidence of organised wildlife crime. Describing the conviction rate in U.P. as appalling, Ms. Wright called for a forceful implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act. Better policing in border areas (U.P. shares its borders with seven States and Nepal), increased intelligence sharing between the forest and police authorities and the NGOs, and dedicated wildlife crime detection unit, were some of the other measures suggested by her.

On the dwindling tiger population, Ms. Wright said if proper enforcement measures are not taken soon India would have no tigers left. Referring to the illegal trade in tiger parts in India, she said China was the end market of the nefarious trade and the smuggling had a strong Tibetan connection. Ms. Wright called for a high degree of protection and enforcement measures to save the Big Cat.

Presenting the keynote address, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden of U.P., D.N.S. Suman, emphasised the need for coordination between the forest and police authorities for checking the crime. He said organised poaching in U.P. was in the flagship species of tiger, leopard and sloth bear with Nepal being used as a trade route.

U.P. Director-General of Police Vikram Singh said there are many Sansar Chands in Lucknow and Agra, and added that the Special Task Force had been directed to prepare a data base of wildlife crime and the persons involved in it.

He said the criminals would be booked under the Gangsters Act and efforts would be made to slap NSA on them.

Mr. Singh emphasised on zero tolerance towards poaching and wildlife crime.