West Bengal is a leading wildlife smuggling hub along the more than 2,000-km Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan border, a porous route often exploited by wildlife traffickers, according to figures released by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
The SSB, which mans the border on this stretch, said seizures of wildlife produce conducted by the force have led to 125 cases in West Bengal between 2014 and 2017, followed by the states of Uttar Pradesh (54), Bihar (36) and Assam (29).
Trade in the Tokay Gecko, a lizard protected under Schedule III of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, has increased with catchers becoming active in Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Bihar. The Tokay Gecko is a “nocturnal Asian lizard” growing up to 40 cm in length and can be “easily identified by its orange spotted, blue-grey skin”.
SSB pegs international market rates per gecko at over Rs 80 lakh, depending on size and weight. “Often, low-weight geckos are injected with mercury to make them heavier, though that kills the animal in a couple of days,” said an SSB official. “Tokay Geckos are caught illegally and trafficked from these regions to Southeast Asian countries, where many people believe that medicines made from gecko meat can cure diseases such as AIDS and cancer.”
The value of geckos that were seized during 2014-17 has been pegged at Rs 95,10,85,000. Wildlife smuggling has seen an upward trend over the last three years, based on seizures by SSB, with the value of the seized wildlife produce rising from Rs 2.21 crore in 2014 to Rs 187.69 crore in August 2017.
A total of 105 cases pertaining to trade in Tokay Gecko were reported during this period, followed by deer/deer skin/dead deer (66 cases), rhino horn and sand-boa snake reported 12 cases each, leopard/tiger skin/bones (10), elephant tusk/ivory (4) and tortoise/turtle (2).
The SSB seminar on Friday on the ‘Role of Security Forces in Combating Wildlife Crime’ led to an action plan that has called for powers under the Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Act to be extended to border guarding forces who operate in forest areas, stop valuation of wildlife products, among other steps.