We cannot afford to ignore threat to wildlife, says expert

Traders are always looking for new ‘products’

July 22, 2017 04:11 pm | Updated 04:11 pm IST

Uttara Mendiratta, who studies wildlife crime in India, says the phenomenon of social media-aided poaching or illegal pet trade is not restricted to large animals. Excerpts from an interview:

People could be unwittingly giving away wildlife locations on social media. How relevant is this problem to India?

We don’t have data on India in particular, but given the demand for exotic pets from South Asia, it isn’t beyond the realm of probability. Pet trade, like hunting, has become a threat to biodiversity across the world. Collectors and traders are looking for information about where to find popular trade species, and are also looking for new ‘products’.


In the case of turtles, while the star tortoise continues to be a popular pet species, others like the spotted black pond turtle, which are also collected and smuggled out from South Asia, have become increasingly popular in Southeast Asian markets.

Even very rare Indian species, like the critically endangered red-crowned roof turtle, have been seized from traders who were selling them to international buyers at premium prices.

Some researchers believe that revealing locations does not matter, that poachers have other means of locating their targets and will do it any way. Your thoughts on this?

It is true that traders dealing in illegal wildlife are often connected to local suppliers through a network of middle men.

It is hard to find examples in India where specific research papers have led to collections in the wild, but given that some of the targeted species are rare, with small populations, researchers in India too should take a cautionary approach towards what information they publish.

Cases of both selective collection by collectors and mass collection by traders (for species such as turtles) are being reported from India, and we cannot afford to ignore the threats this poses.

How can a researcher protect the location of a rare species while also trying to add to the cache of scientific knowledge?

If you come across a new species as a researcher, you would naturally want to share it with the larger scientific community. But I would think that precise coordinates could be withheld from publications; they can be more generic and refer to a broader area. Researchers should still be able to access these locations on request.

Scientists must inform the forest department and local conservation groups about geographical locations in order to help with conservation of the species, but it is unnecessary to go to a public forum. I think poaching and collection call for some online discretion.

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