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  • Anushree Jha

"The Illegal Wildlife Trade: Uncovering the Black Markets of Animal Body Parts and Poaching of Tigers in Asia"

Anushree Jha,

University of Mumbai

Black Markets Of Animal Body Parts and Poaching of Tigers in Asia

Introduction:-

An enormous threat to Asia's biodiversity and ecosystems is the illegal trade of animal parts, especially tiger poaching. The protection of natural fauna is a matter of international concern as it formulates a legal as well as a moral duty. The Tiger is an amazing apex predator, which has stood as a representation of strength and beauty in Asian civilisations for a long time[1]. However, It has been found that this magnificent creature has been inching closer to extinction, falling victim to a silent fight.

The illicit trade in animal parts is a malicious network that is driving this downturn. The desire for tiger parts in traditional medicine and as status symbols, especially in Asia, fuels a violent poaching industry that is driving these amazing animals toward extinction[2].The declining numbers of tigers in Asia have come to represent the wider wildlife disaster brought on by the onset of the trafficking of animal parts in the black market. The illicit trafficking and the poaching of tigers in Asia have escalated to worrisome levels, endangering the fragile equilibrium of ecosystems and driving numerous species towards extinction.

The current state of tiger populations in Asia:-

It is a grim reality which speaks to the perilous situation of the status of tiger conservation in Asia, that just 3,900 wild tigers are thought to be left in Asia today—a small percentage of the estimated 100,000 that were thought to be roaming the continent a century ago[3]. The main cause of this sharp drop is poaching for the illicit wildlife trade. India, which formerly had the greatest tiger population in the world, has suffered a sharp decline. However, In contrast to the 2010 national estimate of only 1,706 tigers, 2967 tigers were found in India according to the 2018 tiger census[4]. India has experienced an annual rise of 6% as the tiger population has grown to 3,682 in 2022[5]. To avoid the total extermination of tigers from the wild, urgent action must be taken across the world to address this dangerous scenario.

There are very little number of tigers living in the wild throughout the continent, and some of the last populations can be found in nations like India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar[6]. In order to address the underlying causes of tiger poaching, international cooperation and the urgency of conservation activities are required, as demonstrated by this worrying drop due to the dire circumstances.

Why are Tigers Poached?:-

The lucrative black market for tiger body parts is the main cause of tiger poaching. This illegal commerce is fueled by firmly held but mistaken beliefs about the alleged medical benefits of tiger parts in nations like China and Vietnam[7]. These ideas feed the black market. For example, tiger bones are misrepresented as being able to treat rheumatism and arthritis. Claws and fangs are fashioned into amulets and jewellery, and skins are employed as decorative items[8]. For souvenirs, claws and whiskers are also highly used. They are status symbols. High revenues also serve as a motivator for poaching. Because a single tiger skin may sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the illicit market, poachers are motivated by poverty or seduced by the profits as a single tiger skin may sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the illicit market. This financial incentive feeds a vicious cycle of violence that wipes out tiger populations and upsets the natural equilibrium. 

This demand supports a profitable criminal industry. Tiger bones could sell for as much as $13,000 per kilogram on the illicit market, according to a 2018 report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC [TRAFFIC, "Skin and Bones"][9].  Poachers are encouraged by the large profit margins, regardless of the moral and environmental costs of their activities. The scope of the illegal market goes well beyond tigers.  The horns and tusks of other endangered animals, such as elephants and rhinos, are also sought after[10]

How does poaching operate?:- 

Methods of poaching differ according to opportunity and area. Poachers can use cruel snares that cause the animal to suffer greatly, or they can use more advanced techniques like poisoned bait or silencer-equipped guns[11]. Because they think their body parts have more medicinal value, poaching groups have even been known to target tiger babies. Organized crime syndicates are frequently involved in the complex and covert network that is the illicit market for animal body parts. Poachers use cutting-edge strategies, including technology and legal loopholes, to avoid law enforcement. Tigers are hunted for their skins, which are used to make luxury products, and their bones, which are powdered into powders for use in traditional medicine[12].

Because this trade is so profitable, poachers are encouraged to carry out their operations, which puts the surviving tiger populations in Asia at serious risk. The issue has been made worse by the growth of the internet. Social internet gives poachers a place to quietly market and sell tiger parts, which makes law enforcement's job harder.


Black Markets Of Animal Body Parts and Poaching of Tigers in Asia

India's Fight Against Poaching:- 

India has passed a number of laws and regulations to stop animal poaching as it is home to a sizable share of the world's tiger population. The cornerstone of the nation's efforts to conserve wildlife is the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Such regulations are passed to prevent poaching and safeguard natural resources. The comprehensive piece of legislation forbids the shooting, trading, and possession of any endangered species, including tigers[13]. The act imposes severe punishments on violators, such as jail time and large fines. The Forest Act of 1927 also gives government agencies the authority to oversee and safeguard forest regions, which are essential tiger habitats[14]. Over time, modifications have reinforced the sanctions for violations pertaining to poaching and the illicit trading of animal parts.

Under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, a general offence carries a maximum term of three years in prison, a fine up to Rs. 25,000, or both. Any offence committed within a sanctuary or natural park, or against any species included in Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II, has a mandatory prison sentence of three years, with the possibility of an extension to seven years. A statutory fine of at least Rs. 10,000 is also in place. If there is another offence, the prison sentence stays the same and a minimum fine of Rs. 25,000 is required. A crime committed inside a Tiger Reserve's core area has a required three-year prison sentence, which is refundable, as well as a fine of Rs. 50,000, which is refundable up to Rs. 2 lakhs. A further conviction of this kind carries a minimum seven-year jail sentence and a fine of up to Rs. 50 lakhs in addition to a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs.Even with the sanctions, it is challenging to uphold the laws. There are over 1,144 court cases pertaining to tigers in WPSI's wildlife crime database, however, the majority of them are still ongoing in court and very few have led to convictions. According to WPSI records, just 175 persons have been found guilty of tiger hunting or trading thus far[15].

With more than half of all wild tigers worldwide living there [WWF, "Tigers")[16] India leads the charge in the fight against poaching. Poaching carries severe fines and a maximum seven-year prison sentence. Even with these legal tools, there are several obstacles that prevent efficient enforcement. Large tracts of tiger habitat are frequently left unprotected due to animal conservation organizations' lack of manpower and finance. Poachers can also take advantage of gaps in the law created by corruption and ineffective enforcement measures such as elements including the intricate network of middlemen and poachers, the porous borders with neighbouring countries like Nepal and Myanmar, and the lack of resources for forest guards.

The Need for Conservation:-

Just 3,900 tigers are thought to be left in the wild worldwide, most of them in Asia, particularly India, according to current estimates. The need for these amazing animals to be conserved is fueled by both their allure as charismatic predators and their critical function as apex predators in the ecosystem.  Beyond the loss of a majestic animal, the extinction of the tiger has far-reaching effects. Tigers are essential to preserving the harmony and health of forest ecosystems. Their presence regulates the number of prey, stopping herbivores from overgrazing and causing damage to the vegetation[17]. A single tiger disappearance can have a ripple effect that threatens biodiversity and disrupts entire ecosystems.

The number of tigers has drastically decreased from their former widespread distribution throughout Asia.  According to historical estimates, their population in the early 20th century was approximately 100,000.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) presented a terrible fact in its 2016 assessment, estimating that there are just 3,890 wild tigers worldwide, distributed among 13 tiger range countries (TRCs) [WWF, "Tigers"][18]. This corresponds to a startling 96% population decline from their historical level.  Tigers are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and certain subspecies, like as the South China tiger, have been unfortunately declared extinct in the wild [IUCN Red List, "Panthera tigris"][19]. The main cause of this loss is poaching, which is fueled by the endless demand on the black market for tiger parts in many parts of Asia.

In order to lessen the hazards that tigers face, conservation becomes essential. Some conservation strategies include habitat protection, anti-poaching patrols, community involvement, and international cooperation. Government agencies, local communities, and conservation organisations must collaborate to address the underlying causes of poaching and safeguard the remaining tiger populations.

Conclusion:-  

Stopping the black market and tiger poaching is a collective responsibility. Together with more stringent enforcement and increased public awareness, the economic inequality that encourages poaching must be addressed.  In the end, it is up to us all to ensure that tigers survive.  Through international cooperation, the implementation of efficient conservation plans, and the promotion of wildlife-friendly values, we can create the conditions for a time when these magnificent animals can live freely and happily.

References:-

[1] C.C. Hsu, Malaysia: Malayan C.C. Hsu, Malaysia: Malayan Tiger, Southeast Asia Globe (2022), available at https://southeastasiaglobe.com/malaysia-malayan-tiger/ (last visited Mar. 9, 2024).

[2] Tiger farming and traditional Chinese medicine' (2010), Mongabay Environmental News, available at https://news.mongabay.com/2010/06/tiger-farming-and-traditional-chinese-medicine/ (last visited Mar. 9, 2024).

[3] Are protected areas safe for Tigers' (WWF, no date), available at https://tigers.panda.org/news_and_stories/stories/are_protected_areas_safe_for_tigers (last visited Mar. 9, 2024).

[4] Tiger census 2018 report - tiger population in India 2019' (Big Cats India, 2023), available at https://bigcatsindia.com/tiger-census-2018/#:~:text=On%2029th%20July%202019%2C%20International,more%20than%20double%20of%202006 (last visited Mar. 9, 2024).

[5] India has 3682 Tigers, home to 75 per cent of global numbers: Tiger Census Data' (The Indian Express, 2023), available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/tiger-census-data-india-has-3682-tigers-75-percent-of-global-numbers-8866890/ (last visited Mar. 10, 2024).

[6] Frequently asked questions - tiger' (WWF, no date), available at https://www.wwfindia.org/about_wwf/priority_species/bengal_tiger/faq/ (last visited Mar. 10, 2024).

[7] Vietnam proposes legalising use of tiger parts in traditional medicines' (Down To Earth, no date), available at https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/vietnam-proposes-legalising-use-of-tiger-parts-in-traditional-medicines-38230 (last visited Mar. 10, 2024)

[8] Kkienerm, 'Wildlife, Forest & Fisheries Crime Module 1 key issues: Demand and consumption' (no date), available at https://www.unodc.org/e4j/zh/wildlife-crime/module-1/key-issues/demand-and-consumption.html (last visited Mar. 10, 2024)

[9] Traffic. (2022). 'Tiger Bone Trade.' Available at https://www.traffic.org/publications/reports/tiger-bone-trade/ (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[10] Tiger bone & rhino horn' (Richard Ellis, no date), available at http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/pdf_files/142/1421463273.pdf (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[11] Poaching' (2024), Encyclopædia Britannica, available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/poaching-law (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[12] J. Qian, 'How can tigers and rhinos be medicine?' DW – 11/07/2018, dw.com (2018), available at https://www.dw.com/en/chinas-medicinal-tiger-bones-and-rhino-horns-tradition-or-travesty/a-46193315 (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[13] The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1781078/ (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[14] Drishti IAS, 'Indian Forest Act, 1927' (2020), Drishti IAS, available at https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/indian-forest-act-1927 (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[15] WPSI Legal Programme, Poaching Crisis, Wildlife Protection Society of India, https://www.wpsi-india.org/tiger/poaching_crisis.php (last visited Mar. 29. 2024)

[16] WWF, 'Tiger Population Numbers' (2022), available at https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger (last visited Mar. 11, 2024)

[18] Supra 16.

[19] International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, "Panthera tigris," available at https://www.iucnredlist.org/ (last visited Mar. 11, 2024).

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