Resurgence of illegal ivory trade in India has put elephants on path to extinction
Four major raids conducted in the past six-eight months suggest a resurgence of ivory trade within India. The ivory trade is currently banned in the country.
Authorities may have put a ban on ivory trade in India, but recent raids suggest there's resurgence in the practice that has put elephants on the path of extinction. What has shocked wildlife crime control agencies, and NGOs involved the most, is the resurgence of the 'domestic ivory market' in India.
As opposed to the centuries-old practice, whereby all 'raw and finished' tusk products were routed to China, Japan and Thailand - the global destinations for these illegal items - a reliable clientele base seems to have developed within the country.
FOUR RAIDS IN THE PAST 6-8 MONTHS
A senior MoEF official told Mail Today on the condition of anonymity, "At least four major raids had been conducted in the past 6-8 months in several states, including Maharashtra and Kerala, which yielded about 13 kg of the contraband. These were based on the information provided by Umesh Aggarwal."
Umesh, a businessman based in Laxmi Nagar, east Delhi, was arrested by the Kerala Forest Department in October 2015. The biggest ivory consignment of India -- 487 kg worth Rs 12 crore in the black market -- was seized from him. On his tips, more than 90 poachers have been arrested so far.
According to Jose Louies, senior programme manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), these raids point towards booming domestic market in elephant-tusk products.
"Crucially, none of the items resemble those traditionally smuggled to Southeast Asia. These are, in fact, statues of Indian gods and goddesses like Tirupati Balaji, Radha-Krishna and Swami Satyanarayan, Quran stands, Christian crosses, tusks depicting the Ramayana, Rajasthani chooda (bangles), etc. The best-selling item is Ganesha idols," informed Louies.
He reminded how the Chinese and the Japanese prefer their own 'school of ivory art'. "The Chinese, for instance, prefer uncarved tusks and tusk flakes to turn into statues of Buddha, monks, their royal figures, various animals, etc. We are sure that all these ivory products are now being manufactured for Indians only."
IVORY PRODUCTS A SYMBOL OF STATUS
Experts point fingers at high-profile individuals --politicians, ministers, bureaucrats, celebrities, film stars and royal families -- who can afford these ivory products.
"They serve as a symbol of their 'status' and 'power' in society," said a WTO official, emphasising how a kilogramme of uncarved ivory can cost anything between Rs 15,000 and Rs 50,000 in the Indian black market, while 'intricately carved and modelled items' fetch several hundred crores. Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of NGO, TRAFFIC, concurred. "It is true to a large extent.
The purchasing power of individuals in India has gone up. So has the demand for contraband items, including ivory products," he said. Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) too pointed at the trend when he said that there has not been "a single incident of Indian ivory being smuggled to Japan in the past few years."
Recently, Minister for Environment and Forests Anil Madhav Dave informed Parliament that 85 elephants across the country have fallen prey to poachers in the last three years. The maximum number of cases has arisen from Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
The elephants --currently only 30,000 odd pachyderms are left in the wild in India -- are generally shot to death and their tusks, up to 10 feet long, wrenched out.
The elephant is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It lists it as a 'most endangered animal.' Killing it or possessing any ivory item calls for a minimum three years in jail punishment and Rs 50,000 fine. Sadly, it hasn't been able to deter the criminals.