Poaching cases in India went up 151% in lockdown: TRAFFIC report | India News

When the country shut down to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, wildlife conservation took a hit — funding dried up, fewer personnel were on the ground and tighter inter-state borders sometimes made rescue efforts difficult. Against that backdrop, poaching cases went up 151% in India during lockdown, a report released by global wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said on Wednesday.
The report, ‘Indian wildlife amidst the COVID-19 crisis’, compares six weeks before the lockdown (February 10 to March 22), the baseline, and six weeks in lockdown (March 23 to May 3). The number of poaching cases went up from 35 to 88 in that period. And while it was not restricted to or higher in any geographical area, species under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (which extends the highest protection) were targeted the most during lockdown. There were 37 such cases reported, up from the 22 cases reported pre-lockdown. The biggest rise, however, was in the killing of species under Schedule III — with 28 cases, up from five in the pre-lockdown period. These are also protected species, but penalties are much lower.
The number of arrests also went up — from 85 before the lockdown to 222 during. When the lockdown was announced, the Centre had classified forest and wildlife protection as “essential” activities. “Forest staff engaged in wildlife protection and protected areas have been exempted from lockdown restrictions by the government of India,” Dr Anup Kumar Nayak, assistant director general of forests for Project Tiger and member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, told TOI. But poaching is not contained within the bounds of biodiversity zones. “Within the parks, patrolling has not been a problem. But in fringe areas, there are people who are jobless and wild animals often stray out. Both are enablers of poaching,” Jose Louies, deputy director and chief of the wildlife crime control division at Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), told TOI.

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Attached photo shared by WWF, India. Credit: Arijit Mondal
The pattern ties in with what has been driving poaching in lockdown — most of it has been for meat consumption and local trade, a trend also observed by WTI. So ungulates (hoofed mammals) ended up being hunted illegally the most, accounting for 44% of all cases — double the share before lockdown. They were followed by small mammals — monkeys, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, hares, smaller wild cats, porcupines — who made up 25% of the poaching cases in lockdown, up from 17% before lockdown.
At the same time, because of tighter border controls in lockdown, stockpiling and organised trade almost ground to a halt. “Much of the poaching I’ve read about in India appears to be for domestic sale or consumption, rather than cross-border, and therefore international, trade. The lack of readily available transport is likely to have had a major influence on curbing international trafficking,” Richard Thomas, global head of communications at TRAFFIC, told TOI. So in India, tiger poaching cases remained constant, at 20% of the total, the report said. Killing of birds (7%, down from 14%) came down significantly, with only larger birds like the Indian peafowl or game birds like Grey Francolins targeted, again, for meat. There are no reports of killing of tortoises and freshwater turtles (compared to 5% before lockdown) and just 1% of the cases were of marine species (down from 11%). The trends have been attributed to two things by the TRAFFIC report — the lack of transport required to send products outside or within the country and the lack of a closed market.
The lockdown, which disrupted inter-state and international poaching networks, also affected conservation efforts. “When a pair of wild buffaloes had to be moved from Manas (National Park in Assam) to Barnawapara (Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh) for conservation breeding, we had to coordinate with three states for the long road trip the buffaloes would take. The team from Chhattisgarh had arrived in Manas before lockdown but got held up for several weeks until permissions for movement were granted by West Bengal and Odisha,” Rupa Gandhi Chaudhary, chief of communications at WTI, told TOI. “The lockdown has also affected our funding … Most corporate funding is going towards Covid relief and wildlife conservation becomes low priority.”
And it will have a long-term impact. Ravi Singh, CEO of World Wildlife Fund-India, which helped put the TRAFFIC report together, said, “If poaching of ungulates and small animals remains unchecked, it will lead to depletion of prey base for big cats and tigers and leopards, and a depletion of ecosystems.”



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