Kerala urged to check ivory trade, elephant poaching

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM May 29. As the hub of the illegal ivory trade in the country, Kerala needs a concerted strategy involving undercover operations, follow- up investigations and enhanced public awareness to call an end to elephant poaching, according to Belinda Wright, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India.

In a chat with presspersons here on Tuesday, Ms.Wright said wildlife crime had assumed new dimensions, posing fresh threats to enforcement authorities. "Kerala must realise that if the ivory trade is not halted in its tracks, the elephant population in the state will be wiped out. By talking about the illegal ivory racket and the threat to the elephant, you have to generate a debate and shock the public into action,'' she says.

She also stressed the need to sensitise the judiciary, enforcement agencies and lawyers on wildlife crime. Recently involved in a sting operation, which led to a major ivory haul in the state, she expressed her distress at the release of the prime accused on bail.

"It is appalling to note that the accused had committed the crime while he was out on bail in a similar case. A violation of Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act is a cognisable, non-bailable offence. And yet, the repeat offender walks out on bail. This shows that the judiciary is not sensitised to wildlife protection issues.''

Ms.Wright said it was not enough to focus on soft issues like caring for wildlife and preserving the environment.

"Illegal wildlife trade is part of a well- funded, organised crime network. Poachers enjoy political patronage, legal support and employ modern weapons and communication equipment.''

Ms.Wright said undercover operations were the most effective method to trap big sharks involved in the wildlife trade. "Wildlife crime has emerged as the second largest illegal operation at the global level, after narcotics. Yet public awareness about the racket remains low. With its rich biodiversity, India is a major source country for a variety of animal products including tiger bones and skins, rhino horn, ivory, shahtoosh, swiftlet nests and coral.'' She fears that the move to lift the ban on African ivory would provide a cover to increase the volume of trade from Asia.

Ms.Wright said follow- up investigation was an important component in wildlife cases to get a better understanding of the racket and the major players involved. The state police have to be equipped to deal with wildlife crime. Interpretation of the law is another crucial aspect. Inter departmental discussions and political debate must also focus on wildlife crime, she adds.

Born in Kolkata, Ms.Wright spent a major part of her life observing, photographing and making films on wildlife. She was involved in the production of a National Geographic series titled "Land of the Tiger.'' As an undercover informer, she has helped the enforcement authorities bust several major poaching rackets across the country.

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