India’s soaring wildlife crime
In February this year, customs officials at Chennai International Airport in southern India heard unusual squeaks coming from the luggage of a man who had arrived from Bangkok. Inside his bag was a tiny leopard cub in a basket.
The customs department in Chennai has been seizing star tortoises, sea cucumbers and pangolin scales being smuggled out of the country for years. Officials now say exotic species being smuggled in are on the rise. But where the exotic wildlife being smuggled into India is going is anybody’s guess.
The illegal trade in wildlife is driving species all over the globe to the brink of extinction. In India, the trade is expanding rapidly, driven by demand for rare species—headed for the pet market—as well as for species believed to have medicinal properties. The main consumer markets are China and South East Asia, but wildlife—alive or as body parts—is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe and Northern America. Beyond India, the main transit countries are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Indian wildlife species and products commonly smuggled out of the country are tiger and leopard skins, their bones and other body parts, rhino horns, ivory, turtles and tortoises, sea horses, snake venom, mongoose hair, snake skins, tokay gecko, sea cucumber, chiru fleece, musk pods, bear bile, medicinal plants, red sanders timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias. Most people probably don’t even realize that this wealth of species even exists in India. But they are perishing fast, with a population of only about 25 of the chiru remaining.
The most trafficked species are pangolins, seahorses and tortoises:
– In 2018, TRAFFIC India released a study which revealed that at least 5,772 pangolins were captured in India from 2009 to 2017 for illegal trade.
– The Patagonian seahorse (hippocampus patagonicus) is one of the three sea horse species which is trafficked for its use in medicine.
– The Indian star tortoise is now the most trafficked tortoise worldwide as it is in high demand as a pet.
The tokay gecko has come into the picture recently after a number of seizures, mainly in northeast India. The trade is believed to be fueled by unfounded claims it can be used as a cure for AIDS. A crackdown by agencies in several Indian states has led to the arrest of more than 300 gecko traffickers in the past year. More than 1,000 geckos have been confiscated in India during this period and released back into the wild.
Rat poison affects peri-urban wildlife in Cape Town, South Africa
Urban rat poisons are spilling over into Cape Town’s natural environment, threatening species such as caracal, mongoose, otter and owl, a team of University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers in the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) has discovered.
In their recent paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the researchers found that anticoagulant rat poisons are infiltrating Cape Town’s peri-urban wildlife food chains. They identified six predator species at risk: caracal, Cape clawless otter, Cape eagle owl, large spotted genet, honey badger and water mongoose. Others are likely affected as well.
They detected at least one of the four most toxic rat poison compounds, all available in over-the-counter products, in six of the seven species tested. Caracals living in or near vineyards had the highest exposure to rat poisons but the route to exposure is unclear.
One of the most significant findings of the study is that exposure occurs at all ages. Several lactating female caracals were sampled in the study and found to be exposed to rat poisons, suggesting that kittens may be exposed through their mother’s milk.
As consumers, we need more eco-friendly alternatives to rat poison and the simplest solution is well within everyone’s reach – improve the management of waste which attracts rats in the first place.