Poaching spikes amid lockdown in the region
PESHAWAR: As countries in South Asia went into lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, criminals in the illegal wildlife trade took advantage. With authorities focused on enforcing lockdown restrictions, poachers felt less likely to be caught.
As a result, authorities in India, Pakistan and Nepal said there was a surge in illegal hunting, including of endangered animals and rare birds. To make matters worse, the economic consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown also saw people who had lost their livelihoods turn to poaching to support themselves.
The trend follows what has already been confirmed in Southeast Asia, Africa, Brazil and Colombia: that poaching and deforestation increased since Covid-19 restrictions went into effect around the world.
Joseph Walston, the head of conservation of the Wildlife Conservation Society noted that, “In places like Southeast Asia, there’s this huge urban-to-rural migration where people have lost their jobs in the cities overnight. They’re now having to depend on poaching, logging or other activities that are degrading nature because they have no other option.”
This is just as true in South Asia. In India, an increase in reported poaching may be only the tip of the iceberg, say conservationists. In Pakistan, officials report a record number of cases registered for illegal hunting in the March to April period. In Nepal, one of the most worrying cases of poaching has surfaced in recent years. Bangladesh is the only country that has reported a decrease in poaching incidents, though conservationists remain concerned about the threat to wildlife.
While these countries have battled the illegal wildlife trade for many years, the recent lockdown has shown that the black market are well entrenched.
Trafficking triples in parts of Pakistan
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the lockdown period from March 22 to May 12 saw a spike in incidents of hunting and poaching.
“From March 20 to April 30, we have made a record registration of 600 cases of illegal hunting and poaching,” said Muhammad Niaz, the divisional wildlife officer in KP’s wildlife department. In regular months, he said, the total cases are between 150 to 200.
Most of the cases involved the smuggling of captured birds and animals to supply markets in the major cities, some of which were open to allow essential items.
“In Dera Ismail Khan district alone, my team booked 220 hunters and poachers who were operating close to the river Indus,” said Khan Malook, the local district wildlife officer.
The biggest case was the smuggling of 65 demoiselle cranes on March 24 from Dera Ismail Khan to Peshawar. The cranes were found tied up with their heads covered with cloth in an ambulance, whose operators pretended they were shifting a body, Malook said. Sharifuddin, the Chief Conservator of forests and wildlife of Balochistan province, said that smuggling cases had increased in KP because the province is a key resting point for migratory birds flying back to Siberia from India along the Indus Flyway.
Lucrative trade
Poaching is a lucrative business and people have taken advantage of the lack of activity at the wildlife department during the corona lockdown period, said Muhammad Sohaib, a bird seller in Peshawar. Sohaib admitted there had been an increase in the supply of birds by poachers during this time.
There is big money in hunting birds. Poachers selling cranes and other rare species can easily earn hundreds of thousands of rupees on a monthly basis. A crane can fetch anywhere from PKR 7,000 (USD 44) to 2 million (USD 12,500).
“The price of rare wild species on the open market is drawing people towards this illegal practice, threatening already endangered wild species,” Sohaib warned.
Wildlife officials believe that there has been a surge in the clandestine wildlife trade because people have had to look for other sources of income, including poaching, during the lockdown, which has put a stop to commercial activity. Not only professional poachers, but ordinary people have moved into the illegal trade as authorities have been distracted.
Idle youngsters bragging on social media by uploading pictures of hunted wild species also caused an increase in hunting during this time of enforced leisure, wildlife department officials told The Third Pole. – thethirdpole.net