Column: Tackling Hi-Tech Wildlife Crime

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Forest and police officials face a big challenge with wildlife smuggling in Odisha going hi-tech. Officials who busted a pangolin smuggling racket recently discovered to their surprise that deals were being made online with criminals operating through WhatsApp groups. The same pattern is obviously being followed for the smuggling of other wildlife species and animal parts as well.

It is an elaboration online operation with websites being used to upload videos of captured animals for the benefit of potential customers. Interested customers can then get in touch with the smugglers through WhatsApp. Codes are being created for the sake of secrecy.

Middlemen are diligently screened before finalising the deals. Pangolins, the most trafficked animals in the world, are critically endangered. But their smuggling continues. There have been several cases of seizure of live pangolins and pangolin scales in the state in the last two years.

Last year police had arrested a notorious wildlife smuggler with five kilograms of pangolin scales near Daspalla in Nayagarh. Following his interrogation, the cops succeeded in nabbing five more wildlife thieves including two from the North East. It became evident that the racket operated through a big network covering several Indian states.

Leopards are also being stalked mercilessly by the poachers in Odisha forests. They are valued for their skin and body parts. If reports in a section of the media are to be believed eleven leopard skins have been seized in the state in the last one-and-a-half years and more than two dozen smugglers and their henchmen arrested in connection with the trade.

One of the biggest seizures had taken place in the Kuchinda area of Sambalpur last year with four leopard skins seized by the Crime Branch which also took into custody seven poachers.

The rise in animal poaching and smuggling reflects poorly on the state government and raises questions about its ability to manage wildlife. We have singularly failed to protect major species like elephants who are being killed in different parts of the state, sometimes on railway tracks and sometimes by coming in contact with live high tension wires.

While leopards and spotted deer remain threatened even in wildlife sanctuaries tigers, too, do not appear to be getting the kind of protection they deserve. On the one hand state’s tiger population remains a matter of dispute on the other forest authorities have made a mess of the country’s first inter-state tiger translocation project planned to boost the big cat population in Odisha.

The project with a focus on the Satkosia tiger reserve has been lying in limbo since the death of Mahaveer, the male tiger that had been brought to the sanctuary from Madhya Pradesh along with tigress, Sundari. The circumstances of Mahaveer’s death suggested poaching as there was a festering wound in its neck apparently caused by a snare.

As far as wildlife crime is concerned despite efforts at improvement neither forest officials nor the police appears well equipped to deal with the problem effectively. They need better investigative skills to be successful in a scenario where this kind of crime is being aided by technology.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)