Star tortoises, parakeets and spotted black terrapin turtles topped the list of animals traded illegally from Mumbai to different parts of the country this year, a report stated. The list of most-traded animal parts included pangolin scales, elephant ivory and tiger skin.
In a first, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), western region, released an annual report highlighting the top six illegally traded wildlife species from Mumbai and Maharashtra in 2016. The seizures were made by the WCCB along with the state forest department and the police. These animals are protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, except the star tortoise, which is protected under Schedule IV of the same act.
“Our bureau collated reports from different districts in Maharashtra and put the list together. The idea is to increase awareness about this kind of illegal trade, which is prevalent not only in India, but abroad as well,” said M Maranko, regional director, western region, WCCB. “Since there was lack of data from previous years, a comparative analysis could not be provided. However, the cognisance and enforcement to stop such activities has increased now.”
Maranko said nine cases of star tortoise trade from Mumbai were reported this year. All accused have been arrested and convicted for three years under WPA. A major case: On October 14, Mumbai Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) officers intercepted two men with United Arab Emirates (UAE) passports carrying 199 endangered tortoises and turtles in four checked-in bags.
With parakeets, there have been six cases of trade of Alexandrian parakeets from Mumbai this year and a few others cases of Sun parakeets and Eastern Rosella from different parts of the state.
Four cases were observed for the spotted black terrapin turtles, which are in high demand across South-east Asian countries as food and are also used as a feng-shui symbol.
Some of the other striking cases this year included the seizure of one pangolin scale (sold in the international market for Rs3-8 lakh per scale) from Dapoli in April, tiger skins (worth Rs5-10 lakh) from Gondia district, Nagpur division in October and Telengana in November, both skins had been transported from Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra.
“While three people were arrested in the pangolin scales case, which is a serious international offence, 11 were arrested from Gondia and five were arrested from Gadchiroli, where tiger skin trade is rampant,” said Maranko.
“It is a matter of concern that this year we also had two cases of elephant ivory seizures, one from Sangli in January worth Rs54 lakh and another in February from SV Road, Mumbai, worth Rs2 crore, which was 100 years old,” he said.
The report highlights the issue of clandestine trade in wildlife taking place through online portals and mobile applications, which India’s conservationists have been battling against for years. Buyers and sellers have been communicating online, viewing images of the animals, deciding prices and even completing transactions, all through net banking before consignments are dispatched.
In May this year, HT had reported that after animal rights activists complained that protected species and hunting equipment were being sold on e-commerce websites, Amazon stopped sale of products and animals banned under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Experts said despite their protected status, traders have been finding ways to smuggle such animals out of the country. “There is increased vigilance for traders and investigators on social media now. However, the number of cases has not decreased because closed groups on social media apps such as Whatsapp are being used to communicate and all numbers have unique codes making them untraceable,” said Jose Louies, head of trade control, Wildlife Trust of India.
“To my knowledge, tiger skin is not majorly poached, but either stolen before taxidermy or after death during a fight for territorial dominance. Elephant ivory, on the other hand, has either been trafficked into the state or is from elephants around the Kolhapur, Sindhudurg areas,” said Shree Bhagwan, chief wildlife warden, Maharashtra. “Apart from introducing a 24x7 call centre facility, the forest department has issued strict guidelines for better enforcement, combined with mass awareness programmes, not only for the public, but also for the every officer of the forest department.”
He said if the number of cases of online wildlife trade increases, then the forest department will be contacting the state and central home department to issue stricter norms.
Indian star tortoise
Found: In Kurnool and Chittoor districts, Andhra Pradesh
Price at source: Rs200
Price at destination: BetweenRs10,000 to Rs1,00,000 (on the international market)
Status: Protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (protected, but lower penalties for offences)
Spotted black pond turtle
Found: Along the Ganga river basin, in places such as Unnao in Uttar Pradesh
Price at source: Rs30 to Rs500
Price at destination: Between Rs10,000 and Rs1,00,000 (on the international market)
Status: Protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (absolute protection and the highest penalties for offences)
The most sought-after endangered animals and animal parts in Maharashtra and India:
• Pangolin scales (killed for its scales, the Pangolin is the most trafficked animal on Earth)
• Star tortoises, spotted black pond turtles and soft-shell turtles
• Elephant ivory
• Tiger and leopard skins
• Exotic birds
Thriving trade this year
October 25, 2016: 26 Indian star tortoises were rescued by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) from a shop at Crawford Market after an anonymous tip-off.
May 12, 2016: Six live Indian star tortoises were rescued from Chetna College, Bandra (East).
May 3, 2016: Six star tortoises were rescued by 16-year-old boy from Versova and sent to a rehabilitation centre at Katraj, Pune.