By R. Ayyappan
The forest department is planning to burn its mammoth stockpile of ivory tusks, estimated at over three tonnes and valued at nearly Rs 50 crore in the black market.
The department’s booty, locked in its strong rooms and range offices, has been accumulated over two decades. Trade in ivory was banned in 1991 through an amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
As the ban had rendered ivory legally valueless, the forest department might as well have been sitting on a pile of stones. “We have no use with this ivory. We cannot auction it to ivory carvers as we used to do in the 80s nor can we work on it. So what is the point in protecting it,” principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden Valliyil Gopinath said.
There is also the threat of some of these tusks getting underground and watering the illegal ivory trade. In 2002, for instance, CBI sleuths inquiring into the theft of wildlife articles from the forest department's strong room at Olavakkode in Palakkad had seized two ivory idols from the house of a suspect.
Many of the range offices and strong rooms do not have 24-hour security either. Ivory is so coveted the world over that one kilogram could fetch more than Rs1 lakh in the underground market.