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2016 in Retrospect: Poaching at all-time High, but the number of Tigers still Rose

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Tiger vs Man in the forests of India, credits-pixabay
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New Delhi, December 28, 2016: It’s not been a great year for wildlife. More tigers and leopards were poached in 2016 than in any year of the previous decade, pangolins were killed in the hundreds while thousands of marine animals perished — this, due to the debilitating effect of climate change. Yet, the good news is that the number of tigers still rose.

“Tigers have increased but in the sphere of protection, this year has been worse for animals, including pangolins,” Shekhar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network in alliance with the WWF, told IANS.

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Interestingly, an RTI application revealed that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has no information of poachers arrested or shot, the weapons used by them, or the numbers poached.

However, IANS managed to piece together information from different independent sources. The records of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) show that at least 129 tigers and 419 leopards died in 2016 as compared to 91 tigers and 397 leopards in 2015. Of these, at least 50 tigers and 127 leopards were poached, a record in the last 10 years.

 

“These numbers are not accurate, these are only those reported or caught. The actual figures would be higher,” WPSI programme manager Tito Joseph told IANS.

Over 20 elephants, 18 rhinos, multiple bears (sloth, Asiatic brown and black), two snow leopards and several sea-cucumber, which are highly sought-after in Southeast Asia, were either caught being poached or their harvest such as skin and claws was seized till November 2016.

“Fifty leopards, mostly from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and at least eight elephants died in road or train accidents alone,” Joseph said. He added that a large number of animals had died not just because of poaching but due to negligence in the absence of proper management plans.

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Also, nature’s wrath, inspired by man-induced climate change, played its part, killing at least 1,800 endangered aquatic and marine animals in first three months alone.

The year, in fact, had begun with the washing ashore of the carcasses of 74 short-finned pilot whales in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, a Bryde’s whale in Mumbai, hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles in Odisha and several Gangetic and ocean dolphins. This apart, over 250 animals, including 20 rhinos, perished in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park due to floods in August.

Ironically, all this happened in the year when India hosted “Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation”, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to protect the country’s feline population. The good news here is that India is now home to 2,226 tigers — 70 per cent of those in the wild in Asia. Prakash Javadekar, then the Environment and Forest Minister, was quoted at the conference as saying that the number could be as high as 2,500.

Meanwhile, the “17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CoP17 CITES)” held in South Africa in September barred tiger farming (or breeding) and listed pangolins in CITES Appendix I for their protection, considering that the species is now threatened with extinction.

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For the pangolin, a nocturnal animal hunted for its expensive scales used in Chinese medicine, the year was ugly. Over 20 instances of the seizure of several kilos of its scales were reported across the country. In New Delhi alone, the CBI, in October, seized 86 kg of pangolin scales.

An adult pangolin produces 2-3 kgs of scales a year while the young produce about 500 gms.

Thus, it’s little wonder that WWF’s Living Planet Report released in October said the world may lose 68 percent of its wildlife by 2020 — the possible prelude to “the sixth mass extinction”.

The report says that about 41 per cent of mammals, 46 per cent reptiles, 57 per cent amphibians and 70 per cent freshwater fish are “threatened with extinction” in India. Four of the 385 species of mammals are already extinct in India.

The United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol in June reported that the environmental crime industry — worth $258 billion — was the fastest-growing among crime syndicates.

–IANS

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USA And Other Countries Pledge To Eradicate Illegal Wildlife Trade

The real test is how quickly they will act on those words.

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illegal wildlife trade
Thai Navy officers and forestry officials display seized dead tigers, leopards and pangolins in That Phanom district of Nakhon Phanom province, northeastern Thailand. VOA

The United States and dozens of other countries have pledged to work together to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and treat it as a “serious and organized crime” following a two-day conference in London that ended Friday.

Trade in endangered wildlife, such as elephant tusks, rhino horns and tiger bones, is worth an estimated $17 billion a year and is pushing hundreds of species to the brink of extinction.

Speaking to heads of state from across the world, Britain’s Prince William, a passionate conservationist, said he recognized that law enforcement resources are already stretched in many countries.

illegal wildlife trade
Britain’s Prince William gestures as he makes speech at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London. VOA

“But I am asking you to see the connections, to acknowledge that the steps you take to tackle illegal wildlife crime could make it easier to halt the shipments of guns and drugs passing through your borders,” the prince told delegates.

Worldwide, the illegal wildlife trade is booming.

Illegal ivory trade activity has more than doubled since 2007, while over 1,300 rhino were killed in 2015. Asian tigers have seen a 95 percent decline in population, as their body parts are in demand for Chinese medicines and wine. In the last year, more than 100 wildlife rangers have died trying to tackle poachers.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the conference the U.S. will give $90 million to programs that fight illegal wildlife traffickers.

illegal wildlife trade
Seized wild birds are seen inside a cage at a news conference by police officers following a bust on illegal wildlife trade, in Kunming, Yunnan province, China. VOA

“Their criminal acts harm communities, degrade institutions, destabilize our environment and funnel billions of dollars to those who perpetuate evil in the world. These criminals must be and they can be stopped,” Sessions said.

It is not only big mammals at risk.

For example, a critically endangered water frog from the remote Lake Titicaca in Peru has seen its numbers plummet in recent years, as thousands have been trapped and taken to make a juice that some believe has medicinal properties, despite no scientific evidence.

Delegates at the conference applauded progress made, including China’s decision at the beginning of this year to close its domestic ivory market, hailed as a major step in safeguarding the world elephant population.

Aron White of the Britain-based Environmental Investigation Agency says other animals need similar protection.

“This market was both stimulating demand for ivory and also enabling illegal ivory to be laundered through this legal trade,” White told VOA. “But that same issue still exists for big cats. You know, there’s a trade in leopard bone products [for example], large-scale commercial trade.”

Campaigners say existing United Nations Conventions on transnational organized crime offer firepower for tackling the illegal wildlife trade, but they are not being used effectively.

In the closing declaration, conference attendees pledged to work together to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and recognize it as a serious and organized crime.

Also Read: Salman Khan Sentenced to Five Years In Poaching Case, Others Acquitted

The real test is how quickly they will act on those words. (VOA)