BELINDA WRIGHT: How can we stop the illegal trade in animal parts?

BELINDA WRIGHT, founder and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Wildlife crime is the third largest illegal occupation in the world, after arms and narcotics. The trade is now more deeply entrenched than ever and worth billions of dollars. The initiatives desperately required to curb the trade in animal parts have been well documented. The reason that they have not been effectively implemented is that the criminals who are involved, and those who allow it to continue, treat this as yet another money-making exercise. The fact that it is denuding our planet of precious, irreplaceable resources is simply not a part of the equation.

On a practical level, the trade cannot be curbed without the unflinching support of political leaders and civil society. In India we need good intelligence-led enforcement to deter poachers, adequate and equipped field staff, more focus on solving human-animal conflict, better coordination between enforcement agencies, and quick and effective prosecution of wildlife cases. WPSI has records of 882 people who have been accused in tiger-related crimes in the last decade. Of these, only 18 people have so far been convicted in a mere six court cases. These are shocking statistics. There needs to be good surveillance of known offenders, international coordination to check cross-border smuggling, and a massive awareness campaign to discourage buyers. People will only refrain from buying wildlife products in countries like China if a social stigma is attached to using them.

On a personal level, we should all spread awareness of the problem, and express support for strong laws and policies governing poaching and the trade in wildlife. Do not buy exotic pets, however tempting this may be; stick to cats and dogs and species that do not belong in the wild. The trade in exotic pets often leads to an animal being captured and traded illegally. Systems to monitor the illegal trade in wildlife are weak, and often exist merely on paper. If you are aware of an illegal activity concerning wildlife, inform the authorities about it immediately.

It may not be possible to entirely halt wildlife crime, but it most certainly can be controlled so that we have something to leave for future generations. We are now faced with some hard realities, the best example of which is a world without wild tigers. The loss of wild tigers, arguably the most charismatic mammal on this planet, would be an inexcusable tragedy of immeasurable proportions. The world must speak out to ensure that this does not happen.

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From its inception, the Wildlife Protection Society of India's main aim has been to bring a new focus to the daunting task of tackling India's growing wildlife crisis. It has now broadened its focus to deal with human-animal conflicts and provide support for research projects.

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