After a stealthy and perilous operation, the Wildlife SOS Rapid Response Team, working jointly with the GSPCA uncovered some bone-chilling details about the trade of protected species. The team tracked the movement of a wildlife-ring and discovered two locations in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, which were storing wild species and body parts for trade. A raid conducted by the Police, Forest Department and Wildlife SOS revealed numerous items like musk deer parts, black corals, monitor lizard genitals and porcupine quills! There was also a trade of many live parakeets. The Maharashtra Forest Department and the Police successfully arrested two perpetrators. The entire operation proved that wildlife-trade is a deep-seated problem which needs to be curbed for the protection of endangered species.
WHAT IS WILDLIFE CRIME?
Wildlife crime refers to the trade and illegal trafficking of live and dead animals and their body parts. After poaching them, people use these animals for meat and as trophies, ornaments, articles of worship etc. Some local communities also use them in traditional medicine. For instance, in many places in Northern India, people hunt the Water Monitor Lizard to consume its meat (Bhattacharya & Koch, 2018).
10 Rose-ringed parakeets and 2 Alexandrine Parakeets (listed as near threatened by the IUCN) at one location. These species are protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. According to this act, it is illegal to trap, sell or keep these animals in captivity. Many keep them as pets, for predicting horoscopes and even for black magic rituals, despite their protected status.
The raid at the second location revealed items derived from poaching Schedule I species, including 40 Black corals. People often make medicines or jewelry out of these corals. The team also found 400 Musk deer parts!
Poachers kill musk deer for their musk gland, to make perfume. They sell this perfume in the international market as one of the most valuable scented animal products. Due to massive decline in population, the IUCN now lists musk deer as an endangered species. Today it is difficult to spot a musk deer due to the destruction of its habitat and increased poaching.
The team also found 3 dead Monitor lizards and 8 genitals of monitor lizards. The traffickers were selling the genitals by claiming that it was the rare Hatha Jodi Plant! Many believe that the plant, found only in certain parts of Central India, brings good luck. It resembles human hands with clenched fists. Since the plant is near impossible to find, but its demand is high, many people poach monitor lizards and sell their genitals which are almost indistinguishable from the plant (Rajpoot et al., 2018).
People also use Monitor Lizard parts to make leather, percussion instruments, herbal medicines etc. Many consider their flesh as well as their eggs as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. Poachers sell every single part of this animal for financial benefit.
The same location was selling mongoose skin and 40 porcupine quills amongst other wildlife contraband. Though the porcupine is protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; their quills are still used in black magic rituals. There is not much information available on the illegal wildlife-trade of species that are not considered to be under ‘immediate threat’ or endangered, despite the fact that they comprise a large portion of items smuggled in the underground wildlife-trade (Chawla et al., 2020).
An often overlooked fact is that a lot of the illegal wildlife-trade is based on religious and cultural practices. To find long-term and viable solutions, we need to understand the root cause of this issue. The beliefs of a community can play an important role in the conservation as well as depletion of a species. That is why active participation with the community is necessary to curb the poaching of wild animals.
Many times, the people who partake in such activities do so out of desperation. The lack of alternatives has led them to adopt this as a means of survival, even after knowing that it is illegal to do so. Hence, an important step in curbing wildlife crime is to rehabilitate those communities who indulge in these activities.
Of course, the biggest factor in wildlife-trade is the extremely high demand for endangered animal parts internationally as well as within the country. To curb those issues, we need stricter and quicker action as well as better awareness about wildlife protection laws within the general public.