The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and other NGOs around the world are worried. The cause for their concern is the ‘Year of the Tiger’, which commences in China on February 14.
“We fear it will lead to an unprecedented rise in the illegal demand for tiger skins that exists in the underbelly of almost all southeast Asian nations — especially India,” said Tito Joseph, Program Manager, WPSI.
The latest such incident on January 12 — in which a resident of Dausa in Rajasthan was arrested for allegedly selling 40 endangered monitor lizards as aphrodisiacs at a park in West Delhi, comes just a couple of months after two baby alligators, a cobra and three vine snakes were recovered from a man at the Nizamuddin Railway Station in New Delhi on October 28.
On September 5, a 32-year-old-man from Karnataka was arrested for allegedly selling four Sambhar deer skins worth over Rs. 50,000 in Rohini.
Two leopard skins were recovered from a poacher duo allegedly attempting to sell them at the Deep Market area of northwest Delhi on June 11, last year.
WPSI estimates that around 74 cases of animal skin smuggling were registered by various agencies such as the CBI and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) in 2008-09.
Police and activists alike say the capital has gradually become a trafficking hub for contraband, ranging from endangered animal species and their derivatives, to precious artefacts over the last decade.
“Delhi’s accessibility through various routes and a multitude of modes of transport has put it at the centre of this trade,” said a senior police officer.
“The airport and the network of highways running to and from the city have led to smuggler gangs exploiting it for their own ends.”
Wildlife activists believe the racket feeds the European and south asian markets.
“Species such as spiders, beetles, butterflies and moths from various locations in India are always in demand in southeast Asian countries and the Middle -East,” said Karthik Satyanarayan, Co-founder of Wildlife SOS, an NGO.
The city’s seemingly easy accessibility has made it a hub of precious artifacts bound for the European market.
On September 8, 2009, four Jaipur residents were arrested from the IGI airport for allegedly attempting to sell antique bronze plates, with the holy Quran inscribed on them.
“There is now a dedicated organisation looking into the smuggling of such contraband. We hope to tackle this menace gradually,” said the officer.