Maharashtra reported 486 cases of illegal trade in protected wild animals and birds in the last seven years, says a study by Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Nearly half of these cases - 242 - were reported from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), which comprises Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai.
The study identifies Mumbai as one of the main centres for import and export of wildlife species, including elephants for ivory, tigers and leopards for skin, and other protected species of snakes, birds, turtles and tortoises. The trade happens by road, air and sea routes.
Officials from WPSI said that the MMR region numbers could be attributed to Mumbai’s connectivity. “The trade flourishes in Mumbai because of its connectivity to other airports. There are several instances of import and export cases. Products such as animal skin and elephant ivory are smuggled to other places through Mumbai. Red sanders are smuggled in large numbers through the sea port. Leopard skin, elephant ivory, mollusks, star tortoises, spotted black terrapins account for most of the exports,” said Tito Joseph, programme coordinator, WPSI.
Other species that are illegally traded are birds such as Alexandrian parakeets and munia. A majority of the cases involved smuggling of star tortoises and spotted black terrapins. There were some cases of flamingoes and owls being seized, also frog skeletons and monitor lizards, said Joseph.
Officials from Wildlife Trust of India confirmed the findings from the study. “The number is spot on. Mumbai is a trade hub for in-bound and out-bound pet animals. Turtles, tortoises and exotic birds are traded in places like Crawford market, historically famous for wildlife trade,” said Jose Louies, head of trade control, Wildlife Trust of India.
The study comes 10 days after the Bombay high court directed the Maharashtra government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to shut down all illegal pet shops at Crawford Market and ensure that the shops do not reopen.
Officials from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) said that they have been monitoring the trade over the past five years. “When it comes to legal trade, nobody is permitted to transport anything without a no-objection certificate from the WCCB, be it through sea or air. According to our inspection, not more than 30 such cases have been noted in Mumbai in the past three years,” said M Maranko, regional director, WCCB.
He added that last week, they had intercepted a consignment of several watch straps made from saltwater crocodile leather, brought from Australia to Mumbai. “The frequency of such cases is very high in the MMR region and these are also recorded under the illegal wildlife trade. This is possibly the reason for the high number,” said Maranko.
Louies said that quick trial and convictions of culprits was needed to stop the illegal trade. “Detection is only an indicator and does not show how we are tackling the crime. They can only be stopped if there are arrests and convictions, which generally does not happen,” he said.
“We have to enhance our intelligence and carry out pre-emptive measures. That is the only way to stop such illegal activities,” said Joseph.