Illegal trade in endangered species flourishing

Jaideep Shenoy

MANGALORE: The police are engaged in a fight against a class of criminals who are involved in the international trade in endangered species of animals.

The police are bound to take them on because India is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1973. Forest Department officials also pursue such people, either on their own or in tandem with the police.

Flourishing racket

Figures on seizures of animal skins, especially those of tigers and leopards, during the past two years by the State police alone suggest that the trade is flourishing in Karnataka.

Police seized 25 tiger skins and 50 leopard skins in Karnataka during 2004. Till November 2005, the police have seized 11 tiger and 15 leopard skins. The ratio being talked about is 10 animals lost for every skin recovered.

Inspector-General of Police (CID-Forest) K.S.N. Chikkerur says, "Trade in endangered species and their products is the second largest money spinner in illegal trade after narcotics worldwide. India being one of the last known preserves for the tiger globally, this is bound to happen," he told The Hindu over the phone from Bangalore.

"There is a growing demand for tiger pelts and its various other organs in nations such as China, South Korea and North Korea, Hong Kong, the United States and even Canada," he says. "The presence of tigers in select forest reserves and the large leopard population makes India a strategic resource pool to meet the demand for these products despite the CITES treaty."

There are 76 signatory countries to the CITES treaty, Mr. Chikkerur says and points out that India also has its own Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, to preserve and protect its wildlife, both endangered and otherwise. The State police is engaged in total war against people involved in this trade, which is a big racket involving poachers, suppliers and traders, according to him.

Asserting that the Forest Cell in the Police Department is keeping a close watch on these developments, Mr. Chikkerur dispelled the notion that the police do not have powers to investigate cases under the Act. "We not only register cases under the Act, but investigate and file charge sheets against the criminals."

Recent cases

Referring to recent cases taken up by the police, Mr. Chikkerur says cases have been booked against planters in Periyapatna and Hunsur. The Mysore city police have registered a case against a person from whom ivory worth Rs. 20 lakhs was seized. The police also arrested a few poachers in Chamarajanagar and two of them were convicted recently, he points out.

In certain special cases, the Government has empowered Forest Cell of the department to personally investigate cases having inter-State ramifications after getting concurrence from the Director-General and Inspector General of Police or the Director-General of Police (Corps of Detectives), he says.

On the recent seizure of a tiger skin by the District Anti-Rowdy Squad at Koornadu in Konaje police station limits in Dakshina Kannada, Superintendent of Police B. Dayananda says the skin recovered has a bullet hole mark on the head. "The craze for animal products due to notions attached [to them] is taking a heavy toll of our dwindling endangered wildlife species," he adds.

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