Traders Cash in on Weak Wildlife Laws
The Wildlife Protection act of 1972 (amended until 1992) is due to be amended by the Ministry of Environment and forests to ban the sale of licensed animal parts. The changes were drafted after nearly two decades of discussions, but the government is yet to introduce it in Parliament.

"No person , after the commencement of the Act will be allowed to acquire, except by way of inheritance, or transport parts of any animals coming under the purview of the amended act." Says additional inspector general of forests MK Sharma.

However, independent conservationists believe more than amendments would be required to stop the illegal trade especially since the multiple wildlife enforcement agencies in India are embarrassingly lax and no threat to smugglers.

A major percentage of the global wildlife trade, estimated to be 25 billion dollars annually, originates in India, the WWF-India has estimated in a report.

Law enforcers insist that they are ill equipped to nail and prosecute the offenders, and say efforts by police are hampered by insufficient knowledge of the law. Equally serious is the lack of co-ordination among the various arms of the law, which include Indian customs, police and the intelligent services.

As a result, wildlife trade has grown through the nineties, and Traffic- India estimates a 95% decline in tiger numbers in this century, thanks to the attempt by traders to meet the demand for tiger parts including whiskers, brain and claws in South-east Asia.

Tiger skins are coveted despite an international ban on their sale, and sell upwards of $200 in India while fetching up to $20,000 abroad, Traffic-India estimates.

Ashok Kumar, Vice President of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, points out that the law has also failed to deter well- known Indian wildlife traders, like Sansar Chand who has the largest number of smuggling cases against him ad yet roams free.

After spending close to 18 years in prison for wildlife offences he was acquitted in all but eight cases which are still pending. "Besides strict prosecution machinery we need faster court trials if we are to curb wildlife trade." Asserts Kumar.

Unfortunately most cases of wildlife crime end in acquittal either because the procedures are not followed meticulously or the documents are riddled with loopholes that are exploited by the defense counsel.

The notorious smuggler Veerappan is still at large in the forests of Karnataka living on sambhar meat - The photos given below were taken by two wildlife photographers who were abducted by Veerappan in Oct 1997 from Bandipur National Park. They were released after eight days.

This is the reason why the trade continues to flourish. Says Mahindra Vyas of the Action for wildlife and environment (LAW-E) which recommends the formation of a legal cell under the environment ministry to assist state and wildlife departments.

A still older demand is for the law to make a distinction between poachers and traders, which unfortunately was not included in the proposed amendment, Kumar says.

Both face similar punishments under the law. The traders are the real culprits and make all the money, while the poachers are often desperately poor villagers living on the outskirts of the protected forests.

Much of the wildlife trade takes place through India's porous borders, and the products generally include endangered species like the tiger, rhino, musk deer, bear, elephant and falcons and commonly found parakeets and other bird.

The Indian Wildlife Protection Act prohibits the killing, selling, buying or keeping wild animals in captivity, but the spurt in smuggling has pushed several new species to the brink of extinction.

Wildlife species of mammals such as black buck, the slow loris, the giant squirrel and several species of primates are widely sought after for private collections, zoos and in circuses. Biomedical research demands the use of the rhesus monkeys.

The environment ministry says more species like the Green munia or the yellow weaver, a globally threatened bird traded as a pet, have been added to the long list of endangered wildlife.

And to protect the bio-diversity, protected forest areas earlier divided into sanctuaries and natural parks have been increased by the formation of a third category of community reserves and conservation reserves. But the amendments are silent about the several millions of people who either live in the protected forest area or are dependent on it for cattle rearing.

"The government is creating more categories of protected areas but the issue of resettlement of the people living in the protected areas remains unapprised." Observes environment lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay .

Source: IPS , Extracts from article by Naunidhi Kaur. Veerappan's photo-'The Week' Nov 16 1997.

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