Smaller animals in poachers’ sights

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Disturbing trends are coming to the fore as regards wildlife crimes. Smugglers and poachers, in cahoots with locals, now prefer to target smaller protected terrestrial and aquatic animal species and their products over larger species like wild cats and herbivores. From skins of animals like tigers, leopards and deer, poachers have now shifted focus to products derived from smaller animal species.

Wildlife experts are convinced about this while noting an increased frequency of abandoned bags with small animal species, left behind when pursued by law enforcement agencies. “In the period from the late 1990s to 2013, many cases of poachers with pelts of tigers, leopards and other wild animals were traced. Now, gradually this has shifted to small turtles, tortoises, pangolins and other smaller species.

Over the last few years, we have even seen a rise in cases of aquatic species being targeted,” a wildlife crime expert informed The New Indian Express. “This is evident from the increased number of cases of smaller protected animal species being found stacked in gunny bags, suitcases, shoulder bags and other luggage.”

Sleuths of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau have pointed out that the number of cases of Ambergris (a solid waxy substance which comes from the intestine of the sperm whale, a protected aquatic species) has also increased over the last few years. 

Cases of ambergris smuggling from coastal areas of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are also rising. Despite this, there is no strict vigil in lesser known coastal areas, which are used by smugglers to move ambergris, which is very expensive and in much demand in the perfume-making industry. 

‘Pattern in wildlife cases, but officials ignoring it’

Moreover, experts are also finding a marked change in the modus operandi in carrying and transporting animals and their products that are being smuggled in or out. “Though each wildlife case is different, there is a pattern. Around three months ago, over 2,000 tortoises were recovered from Chennai airport. Prior to that, it was at Bengaluru airport and then there was a case at Hyderabad airport. Now, when the cases are being detected at airports, the mode of transporting wildlife items is shifting to roads,” said the expert.

“A close analysis shows a set pattern. This is evident to us. But it does not seem to be in the focus of the forest, police or Customs officials. The repeated cases also make it evident that there is lack of coordination, understanding and in-depth assessment among the different agencies,” another noted expert said, requesting anonymity.

He also stressed that locals are involved in helping poachers and smugglers for their own livelihood. “We know that locals are involved, and information about them has been given to the sleuths. But still, there is no action. All they say is that they are keeping a close watch, but what is the use? The sniffer dogs are resting idle,” he said.

Experts have cautioned that only because wildlife smugglers are taking to transporting the animals and products by road, making it easier to pursue and catch them, it should not lead to the agencies to pat themselves on the back. “The seizures of star tortoises in two cases is like the icing on the cake, but many other bags have moved to their destinations undetected. It is an indication that the network of poachers is stronger and bigger than that of the sleuths.,” an expert pointed out.

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