There has been a “significant increase” in reported poaching of wild animals during the lockdown, which is not restricted to any geographical region or state, or to any specific wildlife area, according to a report released by WWF-India Wednesday.
The study was carried out by WWF-India’s programme division Traffic, a wildlife trafficking monitoring network.
While reports of poaching incidences for consumption and local trade more than doubled during the lockdown period under study, the report states there was no evidence of stockpiling of wildlife products for future trade.
“We feel this (increased poaching) is because more people ventured into forests to hunt for local consumption — not because of lack of food, as government has taken care of that, but may be to supplement meals with meat,” Saket Badola, lead author of the report and head of ‘Traffic’, said.
The analysis was carried out by comparing media-reported instances of poaching during a six-week pre-lockdown period (February 10 to March 22) with those from six weeks during the lockdown (March 23 to May 3).
Reported poaching instances rose from 35 to 88, although it is unknown how reporting rates have changed because of the lockdown. “Some species which need transportation of trafficked parts, like tortoise and big cats, have not been poached during this period because there was no transportation available,” Badola said. But poaching increased for smaller species, especially deer, wild boar and fowls, he said.
The report — ‘Indian wildlife amidst COVID-19 crisis: An analysis of poaching and illegal wildlife trade trends’ — notes that poaching of ungulates (a group of large mammals with hooves), hunted mainly for their meat, saw the highest increase during the lockdown period: up from eight out of 35 poaching incidents in pre-lockdown period (22 per cent) to 39 out of 88 (44 per cent) in the six weeks immediately succeeding it. Poaching of “small mammals” such as hares, porcupines, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, monkeys and smaller wild cats also showed a marked increase, WWF-India reported.
Among big cats, nine leopards were reported to have been killed, against four in the pre-lockdown period. In all, 222 people were arrested in poaching-related cases, higher than 85 arrests before lockdown was implemented.
Seizures of wild pet-birds came down from 14 per cent to 7 per cent during lockdown, presumably due to lack of transport and closed markets.
“If poaching of ungulates and small animals remains unchecked, it will lead to depletion of prey base for big cats such as tigers and leopards and a depletion of the ecosystems. This, in turn, will lead to higher incidences of human-wildlife conflicts,” WWF-India CEO Ravi Singh said.
Several endangered Indian gazelles (Chinkaras Gazella bennei), a protected species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, were reported to have been poached in Rajasthan. A chinkara poaching racket was busted in Jaisalmer, the report pointed out.
Pangolins, despite being linked to the Covid-19 crisis, were targeted by poachers in various parts of the country, as per the report. Live pangolins and their scales were seized in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Odisha.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines