172 incidents of seizures of red sand boa recorded from 2016 to 2021: WCS-India report

Incidents of illegal sand boa trade were documented in 18 States and one Union Territory covering 87 districts across India; the highest number was recorded in Maharashtra (59) followed by Uttar Pradesh (33)

August 30, 2023 01:44 am | Updated 01:44 am IST - Kolkata

Representational file image.

Representational file image. | Photo Credit: LILA SAH

A report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)-India has pointed out 172 incidents of seizures of red sand boa (Eryx johnii) between the years 2016-2021. The report, compiled by the Counter Wildlife Trafficking unit of WCS-India, and titled ‘Illegal Trade of Red Sand Boa in India 2016-2021 ‘ collates information from media reports on the seizures.

“We documented 172 unique media records involving illegal sand boa trade from January 2016 to December 2021 in India. Fifteen of these included sand boas alongside other wildlife species, with 157 records talking only about sand boa species. One hundred and twenty-one of the 157 incidents documented seizures involving red sand boas,” the report said.

The red sand boa is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with a ‘decreasing’ population trend in most of their habitat ranges. Uttara Mendiratta, programme head, counter wildlife trafficking programme of WCS-India, said this report is an attempt to bring to light the trade in red sand boas, especially online trade, and to develop a better understanding that might help prevent the illegal collection and sale of the species.

The report points out that incidents of illegal sand boa trade were documented in 18 States and one Union Territory, covering 87 districts across India. The highest number was recorded in Maharashtra (59), often from urban areas such as the districts of Pune (11), Thane (nine), Raigad (seven), and Mumbai Suburban (five). The second highest number was recorded from Uttar Pradesh (33), often from regions in proximity to the international border with Nepal, such as the districts of Bahraich (eight) and Lakhimpur-Kheri (seven).

“The red sand boa is now acknowledged as one of the most traded reptile species in the illegal trade market, due to its demand in the pet trade, as well as for use in black magic,” Nirmal Kulkarni, senior consultant, WCS-India, and an experienced herpetologist, said.

The report points out that illegal trade of sand boas is likely prevalent across India, with concentrations in key localities such as Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, where traders mainly deal in live species.

“In Maharashtra, the instances of sand boa trafficking recorded in urban areas are higher than in rural areas, which suggests that the trade is being driven by young urbanites with greater expendable income, or that sand boa trade in rural areas is more commonly conducted offline. In Uttar Pradesh, the frequency of recorded incidents near international border points suggests that the Indian sand boa trade could be linked to Nepal, or that sand boas are commonly sourced from forested border regions,” the report added.

The study also highlights the role of social media in the illegal trade of the species. “YouTube serves as a buyer-seller-interface for red sand boas in India, and sometimes acts as a gateway to facilitate trade via WhatsApp,” the report said, adding that up to 200 videos advertising sand boas for sale on YouTube were retrieved during 2021.

The researchers, using data derived from open-source media, have come up with a partial ‘Crime Script’ to identify the role of various actors facilitating the illegal trade of sand boas in India.

The report also suggested that local and international conservation organisations should conduct formative research to better understand the situation of the illegal reptile trade and demand, particularly in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

“Civil society, education, and conservation organizations should develop training programs to increase the capacity of journalism students and investigative journalists to produce well-researched and impactful media stories on the illegal wildlife trade to reduce misinformation on wildlife consumption and improve awareness of this issue,” the report suggested.

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