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Our good old post offices work just fine for animal smugglers

The Indian postal department might have fallen out of favour for many in the age of SMS and email, but those dealing in trafficking animal parts are only too happy to buck the trend.
Hindustan Times | By Joydeep Thakur, Kolkata
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2013 02:41 PM IST

The Indian postal department might have fallen out of favour for many in the age of SMS and email, but those dealing in trafficking animal parts are only too happy to buck the trend.

Wild life smugglers, trafficking parts of wild animals including horns, ivory and skins, send their supplies packed in parcels through post offices.

A senior official of the state forest department said that every year hundreds of such parcels are seized by the security agencies from foreign post offices across the country. Such parcels have been found to be packed with contraband wildlife articles.

The list of items includes ivory articles, tiger nails, horns of antelopes, snakeskins, red sander wood, seashells herbs and orchids among others.

“Wildlife smugglers are increasingly taking to postal services and private courier services as they find it safe to dispatch contraband wildlife articles through parcels under false declaration. Booking postal parcels in fictitious names is easy and the content of the parcel is not verified at the receiving counter of the post offices,” C Behera, regional deputy director of the wildlife crime control bureau in Kolkata, told HT.

Moreover if such parcels are intercepted at a later stage by the law enforcement agencies it becomes nearly impossible to trace the culprits because of the fake addresses that they use to post their supplies.

“Also it has been observed that lightweight wildlife articles such as feathers, butterflies, insects and rare medicinal herbs are dispatched as letter mail parcels to avoid detection by customs. Letter mails are hardly opened by the security agencies,” K Venkataraman, director of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) told HT.

There is no provision regarding identification of the person at the time of booking of postal parcels, with the exception of reputed firms sending parcels along with invoices and declaration. The weight of unregistered parcel, as per postal regulations, cannot exceed four kilograms.

Rajeev Umrao, director of postal services in Kolkata said, “The city is home to more than 15,000 locations where postal parcels are booked. It is difficult to track such despatches at each and every location. Hence, many parcels used to smuggle out wildlife parts often go undetected.”

India is home to four Foreign Post Offices in the four metros and four sub-foreign post offices in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Cochin. Wildlife smuggling estimated to be worth 160 billion dollars worldwide is among the top three illegal trade after narcotics and arms smuggling.

In India, a significant portion of the trade takes place through Kolkata, considered a safe transit route. This trend, was also discussed at a recent high-level inter-agency meeting on combating wildlife crime in eastern and central region in Kolkata in February.

Officials from BSF, railways, police, wildlife crime control bureau, customs, forest and postal department attended the meet. The security agencies have come up with several suggestions which includes sensitising postmasters, making a list of locations which are vulnerable for wildlife smuggling, installing scanners at the point of booking parcels and use of transparent bags for parcels among others.

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