India celebrates World Wildlife Day by destroying poaching trophies at Delhi Zoo
On a cloudy Friday afternoon at the Delhi Zoo five dead tigers met their end, again. As part of the World Wildlife Day celebrations organised at the zoo, scruffy tiger hides, intricately carved elephant tusks, velvety Shahtoosh shawls, were lined up for destruction at the zoo’s incinerator, an event presided over by the environment minister for state, Anil Madhav Dave.delhi Updated: Mar 03, 2017 23:55 IST
On a cloudy Friday afternoon at the Delhi Zoo five dead tigers met their end, again. As part of the World Wildlife Day celebrations organised at the zoo, scruffy tiger hides, intricately carved elephant tusks, velvety Shahtoosh shawls, were lined up for destruction at the zoo’s incinerator, an event presided over by the environment minister for state, Anil Madhav Dave.
For India’s first World Wildlife Day celebration, the environment minister emphasised India’s indigenous culture of conserving wildlife.
“Even before August 15, 1947, we used to do this and 200 years before also we used to do the same thing,” he said referring to India’s independence from British colonial rule even as Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy, MaryKay Carlson, who was a special guest at the event, looked on.
He was addressing a gathering of about hundred school and college students at the zoo. The morning was dedicated to various competitions such as clay modelling and painting that celebrated the theme of this year’s Wildlife Day: Listen to the young voices.
“We are not the only ones that have a right to live, animals have a right to live as well,” Aryan Saluja, a Class 9 student from Summer Fields School in Delhi. “Some animals are already endangered; we need to help protect them.”
The government believes destroying seized illegal articles is one way of protecting wildlife.
“Hide of tigers and other products from wildlife were burnt so that people understand that after the court has passed its judgement, we do not keep these items for any kind of entertainment purposes,” Dave said.
The incinerating itself had the makings of a solemn ceremony. A cavalcade of vehicles made their way past an African elephant that is rumoured to sway perpetually, past the white tiger that mauled a man down recently, just ahead of the animal hospital where the incinerator was located.
At the clearing in front of the incinerator, Dave surveyed the items designated for destruction, put on gloves and gingerly patted a dead tiger’s head before leading the procession of tiger skins. Some of the men who handled the hides did so with their bare hands, others wore masks and gloves.
“India has the highest number of tigers in the world and other species such as one-horned rhinoceros. Conservation of wildlife is our collective responsibility and duty,” Dave noted.
For the programme organised by the environment ministry, state wildlife wardens had been invited to contribute articles seized by them. At the event, however, only items confiscated by Delhi’s Department of Forest and Wildlife were listed for destruction.
These items were collected from 142 seizures from as far back as 1988.
Senior officials present at the occasion said they expect around 1000 litres of diesel would be required to dispose of the stash in an affair that will last three days.
“Public is discouraged, both consumers and smugglers,” AK Shukla, Delhi’s chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden said about the aim of the incineration, asserting that “consumers are not guilt-free”.
India, however, does not host a large domestic market for these products and is mostly the source of these items and an important node in the illegal trade route for wildlife articles.
India and Kenya have been vocal proponents of destroying seized items not just as a symbolic event to discourage poaching but also to prevent them from entering the black market again. While Kenya has organised some of the largest burns of seized items, India relies on the less glamorous method of incinerating the items and has only organised one such incineration before.
In 2014, seized items allegedly worth Rs 20 lakh in the black market were destroyed. The value of this lot would easily be in crores. Each leopard skin is estimated to be worth Rs 1-2 lakh in the black market, and anywhere between Rs 5-10 lakh if the head and claws are intact. Tiger skins are even more coveted valued at Rs 10-15 lakh and the Shatoosh shawls are worth around Rs 5-10 lakh.
This year under Operation Thunderbird, which is INTERPOL’s multi-national enforcement operation, 2,524 live species of animals that are identified as endangered under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, were recovered in just 20 days. The seizures included 19.2 kgs of elephant ivory, one tiger skin, eight leopard skins and a jar of snake venom. In these operations, 71 people were arrested.
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, National Zoological Park, National Museum of Natural History, Environmental Information System (ENVIS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), TRAFFIC, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and Sulabh International had all come together to organise Friday’s programme.