Poaching doubled during lockdown, says TRAFFIC

Mrityunjay Bose, The Deccan Herald | June 6, 2020

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Poaching of wild animals in India during the lockdown period is on the rise and is not restricted to any geographical region or state or to any specific wildlife area, according to a report by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. Reports of poaching incidences for consumption and local trade have more than doubled during lockdown although there was no evidence of stockpiling of wildlife products for future trade.

The analysis was carried out by comparing media-reported instances of poaching during a six-week pre-lockdown period (10 February to 22 March) to those from six weeks of lockdown March 2 to May 3, 2020). Reported poaching incidences rose from 35 to 88 although it is unknown how reporting rates have changed because of the lockdown, according to a statement by WWF-India. The findings were released in the form of a short report “Indian wildlife amidst the COVID-19 crisis: An analysis of poaching and illegal wildlife trade trends”.

The study indicates that despite consistent efforts by law enforcement agencies, wild animal populations in India are under additional threat during the lockdown period. The highest increase in poaching was reported to be of ungulates mainly for their meat, and the percentage jumped from nearly eight out of 35 (22%) total reported cases during pre-lockdown to 39 out of 88 (44%) during the lockdown period.

The second group which showed a marked increase was poaching of “small mammals” including hares, porcupines, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, monkeys and smaller wild cats. Although some have always been in high demand in international markets, most hunting during the lockdown period is presumably for meat or for local trade. Cases for these rose from 6 (17%) to 22 (25%) between the pre-and lockdown periods.

Among big cats, leopard poaching showed an increase during the lockdown period as nine. Leopards were reported to have been killed compared to four in the pre-lockdown period. A total of 222 persons were arrested in poaching related cases by various law enforcement agencies during the lockdown period across the country, significantly higher than the 85 suspects reported as arrested during the pre-lockdown phase.

Incidences related to wild pet-bird seizures came down significantly from 14% to 7% between the prelockdown and lockdown periods, presumably due to a lack of transport and closed markets during the lockdown period. Larger birds such as Indian Peafowls and game birds such as Grey Francolins, which are popular for their meat, were reported to be targeted during the lockdown. There was less reporting of poaching and illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, with almost no seizures of these species during the lockdown period.

Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India Office said, “The more than doubling of reported poaching cases, mainly of ungulates and small wild animals for meat is doubtless placing additional burdens on wildlife law enforcement agencies. Therefore, it is imperative that these agencies are supported adequately and in a timely manner so they can control the situation”.

Ravi Singh, SG & CEO, WWF-India added, “If poaching of ungulates and small animals remains unchecked it will lead to depletion of prey base for big cats like tigers and leopards and a depletion of the ecosystems. This in turn will lead to higher incidences of human-wildlife conflicts and will undermine the significant successes that India has achieved in the field of wildlife conservation”.