With the unprecedented growth of the airline sectors facilitating the smooth transit of individuals and goods across the globe, traffickers are widely exploiting the facility to move illegal wildlife products speedily and with significantly fewer transit losses.
The popularity of the airports in trafficking wild animals gains significance when looking at the seizure of over 70,000 native and exotic wild animals, including their body parts or derivatives in 140 wildlife seizure incidents at 18 Indian airports between 2011-2020.
According to ROUTES (Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species), India is among the top ten countries globally where the airline sector is being used at the highest levels for trafficking of wildlife and their products.
A new analysis ‘HIGH FLYING: Insight into wildlife trafficking through India’s airports” by TRAFFIC says that many of the seized species are categorised as threatened on the IUCN Red List and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices regulating its trade to protect the species from decline.
1. Among the species groups seized (including both Indian and exotic species), reptiles were the most encountered group during the study period (46%), followed by mammals (18 per cent), timber (13 per cent ), and species from the marine environment (10 per cent)
2. Chennai International Airport in Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of wildlife seizure incidents (36.1 per cent of total cases), followed by Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, Maharashtra (14.8 per cent ) and Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi (11.3 per cent ).
3. The highest number of live animals of native origin reported during the study period was Indian Star Tortoise. The Black Pond Turtle Geoclemys hamiltonii was second, both in terms of number of seizures (12 per cent of seizure incidences) and number of live animals seized.
4. In the category of non-native species, Red-Eared Slider Turtle was reported in the highest number of seizure incidents, seized in more than six per cent of the seizure incidences. They were also the most number of live animals of exotic origin reported in any incidences, with 65 per cent of the total number of wildlife and derivatives seized during the observed period. Chinese Pond Turtle Mauremys reevesii were reported as the second highest number of live animals of exotic origin seized.
5. Six species under the Critically Endangered (CR), 14 species under Endangered (EN), six species under Vulnerable (VU) and six species under Near Threatened (NT) categories of the IUCN Red List were seized.
6. Among the derivatives seized, timber represented the highest quantity (by weight) seized with over 3,000 kg of timber and its products. Red Sanders, a species endemic to the Eastern Ghats of India was the most seized variety of timber, both in quantity and number of seizures with more than 2700 kg of the timber seized.
7. Among the seized derivatives of wild animals, about 550 kg were scales of Pangolins Manis, a highly threatened and one of the most trafficked mammal species protected in India and under CITES.
8. Products from marine ecosystems included 373 pieces and 122 kg of Sea Cucumbers, 114 kg of Organ Pipe Coral Tubipora musica, 36.3 kg of Sea Horses Hippocampus spp. and 532 kg of Green Turban Turbo marmoratus, all protected under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act.
9. Three skins of the Tiger, four tusks of Elephant, 49 kg of feathers of Indian Peafowl, all protected under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act were also seized.
10. Bag manufactured from the skin of monitor lizard and shawls from Tibetan Antelope Pantholops hodgsonii, also known as Chiru, were seized during the study period.