India burn illegal animal parts to stamp out trade

INDIAN authorities set fire to a collection of tiger skins, ­elephant tusks, rhino horns and other illegal animal parts yesterday in an effort to discourage wildlife smuggling in South Asia.
Banned animal parts are consigned to a furnace at Delhis zoo. Picture: APBanned animal parts are consigned to a furnace at Delhis zoo. Picture: AP
Banned animal parts are consigned to a furnace at Delhis zoo. Picture: AP

Animal poaching and smuggling continues to flourish in India, driven by black market demand from China, Vietnam and other South-east Asian countries where many believe exotic animal parts have medicinal or aphrodisiac properties. In most cases, there is no scientific evidence that they do.

Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar loaded more than 42,000 illegal animal parts into a large, blazing oven at Delhi Zoo yesterday.

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The morbid parts included tiger and leopard pelts, reptile skins, rhino horns and shawls made from endangered Tibetan antelope called shahtoosh. Wildlife officials and members of the media crammed into the room at the zoo to witness the inferno.

“The exercise is an attempt to deplore the unethical, indiscriminate and most unlawful activities of harvest and trade of wildlife products,” the environment ministry said in a statement, linking India’s future development with the health of its biodiversity.

Indian wildlife – already struggling with habitat loss due to the expansion of human settlements – has been hit hard by poachers and the illegal trade in animal parts.

India is home to half of the world’s estimated 3,200 wild tigers, but those numbers have declined drastically from the 5,000-7,000 beasts India was estimated to have had in the 1990s.

The once-obscure pangolin trade has soared, with at least 320 of the scaly mammals now seized from smugglers each year. Star tortoise seizures by customs officials have also shot up, from less than 800 a year before 1999 to more than 3,000 a year since 2002. Monitor lizards, peacock feathers, wild tortoises, ivory and leopard skin are among animal products seized by Indian authorities in the past two months.

WWF India reported in September that six people had been arrested following the seizure of a full-grown leopard’s skin from Warud, in the Amravati forest region.

Also that month, a stash of peacock feathers weighing 29.8 kg were seized by customs officials from a Singapore bound passenger at the airport.

Over 100 wild tortoises were found on the possession of three women train passengers in the Thrissur district of India. Acting on a tip off, police carried out a check in a Chennai-bound train and seized the species from them.

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Products demanded by the illegal wildlife trade include exotic pets, food, traditional medicine, clothing, and jewellery made from animals’ tusks, fins, skins, shells, horns, and internal organs.

Smuggled wildlife is also an increasing global demand. It is estimated that the US, China, and the European Union are the places with the highest desire.