Selling wild animals and birds and their parts is now as big a business as selling drugs and guns. Every city in India is full of criminals who sell everything from tiger claws to munias. For the last fifty years we have allowed this to go on and left the catching to Government Wildlife Departments – most of whom are so intensely corrupt that they control the trade themselves. Why are they corrupt? Because you, the citizen, have never taken any interest in their working. Mumbai’s Crawford Market, Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Kolkata’s Hathi Bagan, Meerut’s Chidiya Bazar, Lucknow’s Nakhas : these are run by paying ‘haftas’ to the police and the Forest Department and these ‘haftas’ run into lakhs. Bangalore, Bareilly,Chennai, Nagpur, Jammu, Bhubaneshwar – all these have flourishing rackets. We have now only 20 per cent of our wildlife left – from crocodiles to owls and peacocks, they are all in the endangered species list – whether or not the Environment Ministry admits to it. If the markets are packed up the trade stops. You can help stop this trade by starting a Wildlife Crime Busting Squad in your own city. How?
- Find people or an NGO that is interested in working to save wildlife.
- Begin by learning the animal laws, specifically the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Animals protected by this act have been listed under Schedules 1 to 4 of this Act. The penalties for possessing, hunting, killing, capturing, trading or selling any of the protected species or their parts and products derived from them are listed under Section 51.
- Learn the identification of wild animals and birds and the parts derived from them. This would include identifying the birds commonly traded in the market, distinguishing between an Indian bird and an exotic bird and also identifying between a dyed common bird being faked as a rare endangered species by a trader.
- Learn to identify monitor lizards and turtles sold by fish and aquarium shops as well as the common snakes kept by the sapera community. The snakes that you would most likely rescue are King Cobra, Indian Cobra, Rat snake, Royal Snake, Indian Python, Russel Viper, Sand Boas, Common Krait and Russel Viper.
- Also learn how to handle a snake, how to distinguish between a fanged and a de-fanged snake, poisonous/venomous and the non-poisonous/non-venomous snakes and one should also have a general knowledge of their feeding habits. Snakes normally rescued from saperas suffer from dehydration, because they are not given water to drink.
- In case of products derived from wild animals, learn to identify the following as well as their fakes : mongoose hair and paintbrushes made from them , deer musk, sande ka tel or oil derived from monitor lizards, skins of tiger, leopard, deer, parts of elephants, blackbuck, tigers, like ivory and feet, feet of an owl, shahtoosh shawls, rhino horns, artefacts made out of insects like butterflies and moths, turtle shells, shoes, belts, jackets made of fur or crocodile or snake leather.
- Prepare a list of the different veterinarians in your city who can take care of the medical requirements of wild birds and animals. Start taking notes from the internet on how to hold and treat animals.
- Maintain cordial relations with the police and the Wildlife Department, as their presence is necessary for a successful ‘Raid and Rescue’ operation. While doing a fact gathering trip prior to raiding a spot, find out about the police station that looks after that area specifically. This helps save time on the actual day of the raid. Prepare a list of names and phone numbers of Wildlife officials as well as police officials like Joint Commissioners, ACPs and SHOs.
- Build up a team of informants for providing you with precise information and whereabouts of the local people and traders involved in wildlife crime. Pay the informants for each bit of information successfully given by them.
- Inspect local pet shops to see the kind of animals they have. Make fake demands for wild animals and see if they supply them.
- Get a lawyer versed with the Wildlife laws and the functioning of the courts to guide you through the formalities and procedures to be undertaken at the police station and the courts.
- Keep a list of journalists covering wildlife and/or crime for all the newspapers and news channels within your city. SMS them the news of your raid, or prepare a Press Release that can be faxed across or send it through e-mail along with the photographs of the rescued animals and/or the accused and the crime-spot. The Press Release should contain date, timings and place of the raid, details of the animal or product seized, name of the police station that provided assistance to the Raiding Team along with names and designations of the senior officials ( DCP, Additional DCP, ACP or SHO rank), name of the NGO that conducted the raid along with the place at which the NGO is based, the specific sections of the Wildlife Protection Act under which the case has been registered, name and address of the accused.
Mumbai’s Crawford Market, Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Kolkata’s Hathi Bagan, Meerut’s Chidiya Bazar, Lucknow’s Nakhas : these are run by paying ‘haftas’ to the police and the Forest Department and these ‘haftas’ run into lakhs. Bangalore, Bareilly,Chennai, Nagpur, Jammu, Bhubaneshwar – all these have flourishing rackets.
The areas dealing with wildlife crime include pooja shops, perfume shops, leather showrooms, craft and antique shops, pet Shops, fish and aquarium shops, ‘sapera’ (snake charmers) bastis, kalandhar colonies, biological items supply shops. The most wild life smuggling is done by the railways and it is important to put one person on the station to see which birds and animals are being sent or arriving.
Since no wildlife trader works alone, the police need to find out how many years has he/she been in this trade, where was he sourcing the wild animals/birds or their parts from and who were his suppliers? Who are his buyers ? All of them should be rounded up.
Follow the case through. Too many groups stop caring when the police take over and the criminal goes back to his trade. But if you get a lawyer and intervene, the man will be convicted. The animals should be released back into their habitat. In the beginning the police will be hostile and tell you to get lost. They don’t know the laws and they are getting money from the traders. But if you persist and go from the SHO to the ACP to the DCP to the Commissioner if necessary, they will come around. If no one helps, get the lawyer to take the matter to court himself. Use the media at the site of the raid.