The coronavirus pandemic has returned the spotlight to wildlife trade and zoonotic diseases, with other countries often held more accountable for the issue. A recent publication by a group of scientists, however, shows that poaching and trade in golden jackals may be widespread in India.
The study titled “Do wildlife crimes against less charismatic species go unnoticed? A case study of Golden Jackal Canis aureus Linnaeus, 1758 poaching and trade in India” was conducted as part of the Wild Canids-India Project, and published in a recent edition of the Journal of Threatened Taxa . Researchers involved with the study are associated with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India, University of Florida in the U.S., the Ashoka Trust for Ecology and the Environment, the Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, among others.
The scientists collected publicly available information from government seizure data, news reports, social media posts, blogs and e-commerce platforms to create a database on jackal hunting, poaching and trade incidents from 2013 to 2019. The study showed that 126 skins, eight tails, more than 370 “jackal horns”, 16 skulls and two live jackals were seized by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (Government of India), a statement by WCS India said.
The analysis by the researchers brought to light a widespread demand for a talisman that appears to be derived from the jackal skull, known as “jackal horn” in English, siyar singhi in Hindi and nari kombu in Tamil/ Kannada/ Telugu. “The ‘jackal horn’ trade is fuelled by extensive online endorsement and unsubstantiated claims made by religious practitioners. Demand based on superstitious and ritualistic beliefs points to a largely ignored threat to India’s wildlife,” the researchers pointed out.
Responding to an email query from The Hindu , Arjun Srivathsa, one of authors of the paper, underlined that there are more discussions on wildlife trade in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. “Our research uses the jackal as a case study, but there are many more such species that suffer similar pressures. Combating illegal trade will require a multi-pronged approach. Citizens will need to be better aware of the legal consequences and the ethical issues,” Mr. Srivathsa said.
He also added that there are different reasons behind the trade and consumption of wild animals. “Some are difficult to counter using ‘awareness’ as the only tool. Religious or cultural practices, and traditional medicine that uses wild animal parts, cater to a population that is not easily swayed by better awareness,” the researcher at the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, said.
Malaika Mathew Chawla, lead author of the study, said that the database of open source reports could fill knowledge gaps on jackal trade in India.“Our preliminary assessment is an important first step to understanding the type and nature of poaching threats to a relatively common but often overlooked species,” she added.
The study is crucial because the India’s efforts in countering wildlife crimes has generally focused on large, iconic species such as tigers, rhinocereses and elephants. The paper indicates that lesser-known, less-charismatic and relatively abundant species may form a large part of illegal wildlife trade in the country.