Wildlife trade: an unstoppable menace

The recent seizure of a large quantity of rhino horn at the Kuala Lumpur airport has again drawn attention to the unabated wildlife trade across national borders. The seizure was the sixth in Asia within a month, reported from Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. Despite all the vigil and the many steps taken to stop the trafficking of wildlife, the business is still thriving. A big spurt in illegal trade was noted some time back. Rhino poaching in South Africa increased from seven to 1,054 between 2007 and 2016. There was an increase in the illegal trade in ivory, too. The survival of many species of animals, birds and plants has come under threat and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has expressed serious concern over it from time to time. If international trade in animals and their parts has increased, illicit trade within countries has increased at a faster pace.

On the one hand, the rampant killing of wildlife, erosion of their habitat for natural reasons and encroachment by humans have reduced the population of many animals. On the other hand, poaching for trade poses a serious threat. Only when the number plummets to a critical stage is it realised that a species is in danger. There are only 3,890 tigers left in the world. In just one year, ivory representing 2,500 elephants was seized. What has escaped seizure might be much more. Some forests are considered to be better protected. But poaching of animals like tigers and rhinos occurs with impunity even in such forests in India and elsewhere. The situation in the majority of forests outside the national parks is worse. Poaching of bigger animals receives some attention, but there are many small and lesser animals which are on the verge of extinction whose disappearance is hardly noticed. These are equally important in the chain of dependent life forms. The body parts of owls, lizards, pangolins, turtles, snakes etc are also very much in demand and they are killed for them. This is more difficult to stop because the animals are small.

Wildlife trading syndicates are strong and have wide international networks and even political and financial muscle. Most countries, including India, have stringent laws to protect wildlife but they are not well implemented. Apart from strict enforcement of law, there is the need for a coordinated strategy, including development of trained manpower, intelligence gathering and crackdown on poachers and smugglers. It is also important to create greater awareness about the need for conservation, especially among people who live near the forests.

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