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'Not all animals migrate by choice': How a govt campaign raising awareness against illegal wildlife

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New Delhi, June 22: Illegal wildlife trade is driving species to the brink of extinction. The pet trade has migrated from traditional hunting to an online world that is becoming increasingly difficult to tackle. But more importantly, it is now evident that it is transnational in nature, with links to organised crime and terrorism.

In India, it includes diverse products including mongoose hair; snake skins; Rhino horn; Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers; Elephant tusks; deer antlers; shahtoosh shawl; turtle shells; musk pods; bear bile; medicinal plants; timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias etc. A large part of this trade is meant for the international market and has no direct demand in India.

Not all animals migrate by choice: How a govt campaign raising awareness against illegal wildlife

A new report on global wildlife trafficking seizures in air transport reveals that criminals are "highly dependent" on commercial air transportation systems to smuggle endangered animals.

In an endeavor to spread awareness about poaching and illegal wildlife trade, the government last month announced an awareness campaign for the protection of wildlife in the backdrop of rising illegal wildlife trade through airports.

The campaign "Not all animals migrate by choice", which primarily focuses on tiger, pangolin, star tortoise and Tokay gecko, will be held at 22 airports in the country over the next year.

In the first phase of the campaign, Tiger, Pangolin, Star Tortoise and Tokay Gecko have been chosen as they are highly endangered due to illegal trading in International markets.

Tiger is traded for its skin, bones and body parts; Pangolin, the most illegally traded wild mammal on the planet is trafficked for its meat and its scales are used in traditional medicines; Star Tortoise for meat and pet trade and Tokay Gecko in traditional medicine mostly into South East Asia and particularly Chinese Markets.

Snow leopards are poached for their fur and body parts, while greater one-horned rhinos are targeted for their horns used in supposed body tonics, said a press statement issued by TRAFFIC, which is also one of the organisations behind the initiative.

It said Pangolins, reported to be the most trafficked wild mammals globally, are poached for their scales and meat, while Asian elephants are killed for tusks, which are used to make artefacts and jewellery.

The customs department and WWF-India have set up five fe-sized, brightly lit standees displaying protected species at the international airport here.

The display boards show pictures of snow leopard (Panthera uncia), greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), pangolins and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) along with the message "Don't Buy Trouble (which lists prohibited wildlife species for possession or trade in India).

The boards have been set up in arrival area at the customs checkpoint at Terminal 3.

Phase two will see more threatened species and explore other routes of trafficking.

The campaign aims at creating awareness and garnering public support for the protection and conservation of wildlife, prevention of smuggling and reduction in demand for wildlife products.

India has a strong legal and policy framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade. Trade in over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivative is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

In India like many other countries, the problem is not of the laws but that these may be poorly communicated and just as poorly implemented and enforced. Often, positive efforts to address wildlife trade concerns are undermined by lack of political will and governance failures. Without political backing, disincentives for over-exploitation and illegal trade, such as penalties for legal infringements, are all too often weak.

This campaign is an important step forward in creating much-needed awareness on wildlife trafficking which threatens the very survival of these species.

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