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Wildlife trade

Next to habitat loss, trade in wildlife - a major problem that affects the survival of flora and fauna and in recent times, has reached unprecedented levels. It fetches staggering profits for people who are involved in this trade. From small-time poaching and hunting, it has grown into a well-organized, sophisticated network of racketeers across the world, who carry out a trade ring worth an estimated 6 to 20 billion dollars worldwide (MoEF, 1994), second only to the narcotics (drugs) trade in magnitude.

The United States is the largest consumer of wildlife in the world. India, home to several mega-species such as the tiger, elephant, rhino, snow leopard, and musk deer, which are highly valued in this trade, has consequently become a crucial target for poaching and export of wildlife products. In order to deal with this challenge the Government of India has over the past twenty years, taken several initiatives aimed at conserving the biodiversity of the country. It has banned hunting of wild animals and the trade in animal parts.

The global wildlife trade includes primates, ivory from African elephants, orchids, live birds, reptile skins, butterflies, animal furs, and tropical fish. CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (the Washington Convention) was signed in 1973 providing a mechanism to regulate the trade in wildlife. Under its guidance, governments all over the world have taken steps to prevent this illegal trade and bring it under control.

India passed the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 which prohibits the hunting of all animals. Poaching of tigers is punishable with a maximum of seven years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 25,000. India is also a party to the CITES since 1976 and is therefore bound by all its efforts to eliminate international trade in tigers and tiger parts.

Some of the threatened animals are:

– There has been a 95% decline in tiger population in the 20 th century. Tigers are killed mainly for their bones, skin, meat and blood. In April 1973 the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched the Project Tiger, the most significant initiative for tiger conservation. In 1997 they set up the Tiger Conservation Programme in a renewed attempt to support tiger conservation activities in India and in other Asian tiger range countries.

Tibetan Antelope or Chiru – The famous Shahtoosh shawls are woven from the under wool of this animal which has to be killed in order to derive the wool. This animal is migratory and was once found in large numbers in summers in the northeastern corner of Ladakh. Their numbers have now come down to a few hundreds, though they are still found in large numbers in the Tibetan Plateau.
Only about 150gms of wool is procured from each animal and the shawls which are woven from this wool is one of the finest in the world and fetch a very large amount of money. Each shawl can cost between Rs. 50,000 to 1,00,000, depending on the workmanship.
Chiru is protected under the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, and under the Appendix 1 of CITES hence trade in its wool is banned.

Live birds – Trade in birds has been prevalent since ancient times and the first recorded trade in birds took place in 400BC when a Greek person took a bird from India to teach it Greek. Around 250 native species are trapped in India and traded mainly for the following purposes: pet, food, zoo, medicine, black magic falconary and taxidermy. Millions of birds are caged for trade of which two thirds die during capture or during transportation. After a ban on the trade in birds has been imposed, thousands of captured birds are detected and released every year.

Rhinoceros – This animal is now on the endangered list mainly due to the trade in rhino horn. The horn fetches about 200,000 to 300,000 rupees in India and much more in the international market. Its meat and bones are also used for medicinal purposes in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan.


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