The Bones of Contention
Overenthusiastic and lax in turn, the media and NGOS oen end up fuelling the wildlife trade
lenge. Leopards are more convenient targets and fetch a high price as tiger substitute. Then there are the smaller catches ranging from owls to exotic butterflies.
At least thrice in the past two years, it turned out that people with no history of involvement in wildlife crime had decided to give it a try after reading or watching in the media how lucrative the trade was. A couple of them were graduates. One taught boxing; another was a driver. None of them had to enter any forest to poison or trap the leopards they killed.
Understandably, the antipoaching NGOs have their hands full. But few have the intelligence network or skills of investigation required to bust poaching rackets. Instead, they send staff to forested areas as decoy customers, ready to pay a good price. This is harmless strate-
Seizures almost always throw up only skins. Very few lead to the recovery of bones
gy as long as they look for an existing stock of wildlife goods. But it crosses the line when they offer money to anyone willing to make a kill.
It is indeed a matter of fine judgement for an NGO when the potential trader seeks time to supply a consignment. It is usual for poachers to take a few days for moving stock from remote locations of safekeeping. But that time may as well be utilised in making fresh kills.
While it is a debatable moral question if another big cat is too big a price for nabbing a prolific poacher, it is certainly inexcusable when random fishing with monetary baits tempts poor villagers with no history of poaching to the crime.
Wary that their lax protection regimes would get exposed, forest officials in the past have accused even the most experienced NGO hands of “inciting villagers to poach”. At the same time, the shoddy handling of seizures poses serious questions.
The bones of a big cat are worth up to 10 times its pelt. Seizure data claims that at least 466 leopards and 66 tigers have been poached since 2010. That would amount to 532 pelts and, at the very least, 4,000 kg of bones. Yet, seizures almost always throw up only skins. More inexplicably, very few skin seizures, if any, subsequently lead to recovery of bones.
Since poachers almost always get bail, they go back or get their associates to recover and crush the buried bones into powder for the international market. While the strike rate of NGOs improves, the trade continues to flourish.
• Big slip Out of 532 big cats poached across India since 2010, bones were seized only in 36 cases