By Akash Vashishtha
According to highly-placed sources in the environment ministry, the increase in wildlife crime involving lesser-known species will now be tracked by Interpol, jointly with the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), the wildlife intelligence arm of the ministry.
Among the major species whose poaching and illegal trade in the international market will be probed are pangolins, sea horses and sea cucumbers.
Other species like star tortoise, fresh water turtles and mollusks will also be covered under the probe.
According to Traffic India, the trade of lesser-known species has multiplied in the last few years and has gone “uncontrolled”.
As per its estimates, around 3,350 pangolins were poached in India between 2009 and 2013. Several cases were reported from the North-east alone.
Pangolins and other sea creatures are reportedly smuggled into East Asia and China. The species are in high demand for their medicinal and food properties.
“The trade in lesser-known species like pangolins is really a cause of big concern. Though we are launching awareness campaigns for people to know about such species, the problem needs direct intervention of the highest level to identify the syndicates and the agencies involved in it,” said Shekhar Neeraj, Head of Traffic India.
Estimates by various wildlife agencies suggest that over 20,500 tortoises were seized in Tamil Nadu from 2000-2013, as compared to 2,074 from 1990-1999. India sees illegal trapping of around 7,00,000 birds and about 70,000 tonne of shark every year. It is also the second-largest shark catching nation after Indonesia.
About 10000-15000 star tortoises are traded and about 10,000 to 15,000 fresh water turtles are smuggled every year from the country.
According to WCCB sources, Interpol will launch Operation Pangolin, in which the WCCB would “partner”.
In the first phase, the two agencies will gather intelligence and identify the syndicates and agencies involved in the crime.
The second phase will see ‘specific operations’, including arresting the people involved.
“We are working out the details,” said a senior WCCB official.
Sources said Interpol would launch the operations after involving the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the World Customs Organisation.
The UPA government, in 2013, had also announced to investigate into the alleged links between terrorist organisations and wildlife crime (especially in tigers and elephants) with the help of the CBI and the Interpol. However, the investigation could not be initiated.