By Kushagra Dixit
Its not been a great year for wildlife. More tigers and leopards were poached in 2016 than in any year of the previous decade. Pangolins were killed in the hundreds while thousands of marine animals perished -- this, due to the debiliating effect of climate change.
Yet, the good news is that the number of tigers still rose.
"Tigers have increased but in the sphere of protection, this year has been worse for animals, including pangolins," Shekhar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network in alliance with the WWF, told IANS.
Interestingly, an RTI application revealed that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has no information of poachers arrested or shot, the weapons used by them, or the numbers poached.
However, IANS managed to piece together information from different independent sources. The records of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) show that at least 129 tigers and 419 leopards died in 2016 as compared to 91 tigers and 397 leopards in 2015. Of these, at least 50 tigers and 127 leopards were poached, a record in the last 10 years.
"These numbers are not accurate, these are only those reported or caught. The actual figures would be higher," WPSI programme manager Tito Joseph told IANS.
Over 20 elephants, 18 rhinos, multiple bears (sloth, Asiatic brown and black), two snow leopards and several sea-cucumber, which are highly sought-after in Southeast Asia, were either caught being poached or their harvest such as skin and claws was seized till November 2016.
"Fifty leopards, mostly from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and at least eight elephants died in road or train accidents alone," Joseph said. He added that a large number of animals had died not just because of poaching but due to negligence in the absence of proper management plans.
Also, nature's wrath, inspired by man-induced climate change, played its part, killing at least 1,800 endangered aquatic and marine animals in first three months alone.
The year, in fact, had begun with the washing ashore of the carcasses of 74 short-finned pilot whales in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, a Bryde's whale in Mumbai, hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles in Odisha and several Gangetic and ocean dolphins. This apart, over 250 animals, including 20 rhinos, perished in Assam's Kaziranga National Park due to floods in August.
Ironically, all this happened in the year when India hosted "Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation", where Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to protect the country's feline population.
The good news here is that India is now home to 2,226 tigers -- 70% of those in the wild in Asia. Prakash Javadekar, then the Environment and Forest Minister, was quoted at the conference as saying that the number could be as high as 2,500.
Meanwhile, the "17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CoP17 CITES)" held in South Africa in September barred tiger farming (or breeding) and listed pangolins in CITES Appendix I for their protection, considering that the species is now threatened with extinction.
For the pangolin, a nocturnal animal hunted for its expensive scales used in Chinese medicine, the year was ugly. Over 20 instances of the seizure of several kilos of its scales were reported across the country. In New Delhi alone, the CBI, in October, seized 86 kg of pangolin scales.
An adult pangolin produces 2-3 kgs of scales a year while the young produce about 500 gms.
Thus, it's little wonder that WWF's Living Planet Report released in October said the world may lose 68% of its wildlife by 2020 -- the possible prelude to "the sixth mass extinction".
The report says that about 41% of mammals, 46% reptiles, 57% amphibians and 70% freshwater fish are "threatened with extinction" in India. Four of the 385 species of mammals are already extinct in India.
The United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol in June reported that the environmental crime industry -- worth $258 billion -- was the fastest-growing among crime syndicates.
(Kushagra Dixit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)