Elephant tusks, pangolin scales, tiger skins and Indian star tortoises are just some of the wildlife parts and derivatives that have been confiscated at Indian airports, part of a growing trend exploiting airports to traffic illegal wildlife.
With the growth in traveller numbers and increase in efficiency of air travel it has become easier than ever for traffickers to use air travel to move illegal wildlife goods across the globe. The World Wildlife Report 2020 found that between 1999 and 2018, 6,000 different species of flora and fauna were seized. Suspected traffickers from 150 citizenships were identified, illustrating that wildlife crime is a. global issue.
“India is among the top ten countries in terms of using the airline sector for wildlife trafficking, this is an unwanted accolade” said Atul Bagai, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in India.
High Flying: Insight into Wildlife Trafficking Through India’s Airports, the latest report by UNEP partners, TRAFFICfound that between 2011 and 2020, over 70,000 native and exotic animals and their derivatives were trafficked through 18 Indian airports. Among the species groups seized, reptiles were the most common, making up 46 per cent of all seizures. Mammals, 18 per cent, were second with timber, 13 per cent, third. The most common native species seized was the Indian Star Tortoise, a threatened species, followed by the Black Pond Turtle. The most reported airports for trafficking were Chennai International, followed by Mumbai and Delhi.
In response, UNEP and partners including TRAFFIC, WWF-India and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) have joined forces and launched a new dedicated project called Deterring and Disrupting Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector in India.
India is among the top ten countries in terms of using the airline sector for wildlife trafficking, this is an unwanted accolade.
TRAFFIC’s study of wildlife seizures at Indian airports reinforces the need to strengthen enforcement efforts to curb the exploitation of the airline sector for conducting illegal wildlife trade,” said Dilpreet B. Chhabra, Senior Manager, TRAFFIC’s India Office.
“Airports have emerged as a popular mode for transporting wildlife contrabands due to the shorter travel time and extensive reach,” said Tilotama Varma, a Director at the Indian WCCB “Traffickers smuggle wildlife and their derivatives through checked luggage and personal baggage, which makes detection cumbersome for enforcement agencies.”
“The Deterring and Disrupting Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector in India programme is an important step in combatting illegal trafficking of wildlife, through capacity building tools and training modules developed for law enforcement agencies at airports,” said Bagai.
The project has developed a new online hub that includes courses on how to curb wildlife trafficking, information on the laws and regulations, a video highlighting the problem, checklists for enforcement officials to help them in their day to day operations and posters to raise awareness.
“Wildlife needs our support more than ever due to the ever-increasing threats due to human interventions, climate change and illegal wildlife trade,” said Ravi Singh, the Secretary-General and CEO of WWF-India, “The new project engages with nodal agencies at airports and helps to increase the awareness and prevention of illegal wildlife trade.”