An Insight into Marine Wildlife and Trafficking

Diya Chakraborty & Raksha Tripathy*

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Stellar’s sea cow, the Carnivorous sea mink, the Hawks bill turtle; they all exist only in pictures as these animals were brutally poached. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has reported hundreds of marine species worldwide under endangered, vulnerable categories.[1] The campaigns on saving wildlife have a little impact on the ground level.

Despite having a regulatory authority,i.e.the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[2], poaching and trafficking are still prevalent and has not been stopped.Marine species are often neglected, failing to grab attention and awareness about their protection, altering the marine ecosystem. Humans are obligated to maintain the salubrious ecological balance of the planet because if a single species is stranded or becomes extinct, the whole food chain is hampered- affecting all species.[3] Certain fundamental duties have been mentioned under Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution, where it entails provisions to safeguard the environment; comprising lakes, forests, rivers, wildlife, and possess compassion for living organisms and make it available for the future generation.[4]Human beings have been hunting since the existence of our planet, but the initial hunting was necessary for survival. Due to the lack of awareness and unemployment, people have adopted illegal and unethical ways to earn money.[5] Henceforth, compromising national security of states, promoting corruption, and undermining the rule of law.

Increase in population and emergence of the middle class in Asia and other places have reportedly placed a high demand on fisheries. There is a proliferation for luxury seafood delicacies to demonstrate status and trend; which includes shark fin, sea cucumber, sea urchins, etc. prevalent in the South East and East Asia, hence, increased illegal fishing and other activities. Worldwide, around USD 10 to 423.5 billion is the estimated financial loss due to unreported and illegal fishing. Developing and underdeveloped countries with weak governance are more vulnerable to these illegal activities.

What Is Marine Trafficking?

Wildlife/Aquatic trade refers to the trading of animals or plants, generally extracted from the existing environment or bred under controlled conditions, indistinctly as living or dead animals or their body parts. On the other hand, wildlife/aquatic trafficking are environment-related offences that involve poaching, smuggling, trading of endangered species. It is a robust and rapidly expanding demand for a variety of products around the world: meat, ingredients for medicine, jewellery, furs for coats and traditional costumes, trophies, and exotic pets.

Article 48A of the Indian Constitution states,“State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.[6]Theprotection and safeguarding of wildlife and environment were made a duty through the 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution in 1976.The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 protects marine species in India through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Schedule I to IV protects all marine species, e.g. sea fans, fire corals, etc. All species of sponges and a wide variety of molluscs are protected under Schedule III and IV respectively.

Causes of Poaching And Trafficking

The illegal trade of trafficking and poaching animals for different products has many disguised players, from local or native businessmen to corrupt government officials. The trade is significantly orchestrated by international crime syndicates which also stakes national security. What can be the possible reasons for the continuation of these heinous crimes?

  1. Ineffective laws to prohibit the illegal trade:

Due to flexible laws, illegal traders continue the heinous crime of selling and marketing the parts of animals. The fine in India ranges from INR 10,000 to 25,000 and imprisonment of 7-10 years, which the criminals easily get away because of lenient prosecution. In the last few years, convictions happened to only 10% of the registered cases in India. In 2016, the UNEP approximated the illegal trade industry to be around $26 Billion.

  1. Harvesting:

The term refers to the killing of particular species that is overpopulated in order to maintain the ecological balance. Various international reports on illegal trade have indicated that informal harvesting practices introduce illegal wildlife trade in international markets. There exists no scientific proof which claims harvesting is done in order to conserve nature.

  1. Do illegal trade items end up in legal markets?

We prominently believed that the illegal wildlife trade is only purchased and sold in black markets. It also reckons to the fact that most of the money earned out of such business goes into the legal markets, which ultimately increase the money flow proportionate to the increase in demand, leading to more poaching. Under Section 49 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, “No person shall purchase, receive or acquire any captive animal, wild animal other than vermin, or any animal article, trophy, uncured trophy, or meat derived therefrom otherwise than from a dealer or from a person authorised to sell or otherwise transfer the same under this Act.[7]

Back in 2002, an e-auction website in India had offered Tiger skin, which was supposedly the world’s largest, with a worth of USD 1M.[8] It was later revealed in investigation that the owner had a valid ownership certificate under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which ultimately led to Amendments and prohibited the commercial trade of wildlife products.[9] It was reframed in the amendment that any person can only obtain captive animal, article, trophy or uncured trophy only by way of inheritance as specified in Schedule I, and Part II of Schedule II, Sec 40 (2A and B).[10]

  1. Profit out of this illegal trade

The illegally traded items garner massive price for the variety and more endangered species. The product is high in demand in the European markets, an easy catch for poachers to earn a profit.

  • Undocumented species being traded legally

Many species are brutally hunted commercially on a large scale despite being endangered or are vulnerable. Due to unclear documentation, many species are poached without getting noticed in the eyes of environmentalists and lawmakers.

Different tactics are put into practice, enabling a smooth passage through ports and across domestic and international borders. INTERPOL and other intelligence organisations have claimed that wildlife trafficking networks are commonly used as another way to smuggle other illicit materials like drugs and weapons.[11]

Challenges Faced

With globalisation growing, the use of computers and various technologies have simplified the tedious work earlier done by man. With this, it has also eased the theft, robbery, or crimes like trafficking over the years. Interested parties can find each other on specific platforms and can carry out trade through the internet, thus leaving no barrier of time and space before them.

Unfortunately, many high-profile species such as marine turtles and seahorses, etc. are openly offered for sale on popular websites across the globe. With the increase in usage of technology, the internet presents new and significant challenges for law enforcement. To mention a few:

  1. It is challenging to track down illegal trade on the dark web behind such internet-based wildlife offences.Electronic data is perishable and can be deleted/manipulated/modified with little effort. This creates the need for trained personnel with updated equipment to investigate and prosecute these cases.
  2. One of the most crucial steps would be to increase consumer awareness in keymarkets.Maximum fishers in India, living on the coastlines, are illiterate and thus do not have any idea about individual animals being illegal or banned from selling. 
  3. There is a lack of technical knowledge of identifying the animal’s parts and Knowledge of marine wildlife poaching techniques. 

Further Enforcement

The conviction rate in the trial courts, which manages wildlife-related cases is not speedy and is low in number.This has resulted in making the wildlife laws an unproductive barrier to poaching and uncontrolled trafficking of animal parts. 

Section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act[12]deals with penalties for individuals, while Section 57 deals with offences committed by companies. A petition was filed questioning whether aquatic animals come into the definition of “wild animal” as specified in Schedule I to V. It was held in a case that the definition of the “wild animal” also includes aquatic animals. Therefore,the bench did not find any merit in the writ petition and held it dismissed.[13]

  1. The authorities need to keep track of the websites and the products they offer.
  2. To perform sting operations as decoy customers and establish the nature of the products on offer.
  3. Identification of global and national key players of marine wildlife crime networks and seizing them with evidence. Section 50 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 grants power to entry, search and arrest, but the procedure for the same is prescribed under Section 100 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.[14]
  4. An Adjudicating authority to be established which deals explicitly in these cases.
  5. Databases of people involved in wildlife crime, their communities, links, and association. 

Possible Solutions

The illegal wildlife trade is the second-biggest direct threat to species, next only to habitat destruction. Hence, we need strict resolutions effective at ground level. It is an alarming situation keeping ecological balance in mind since we, humans, are obligated to protect and maintain natural balance on the planet. 

  1. The first step is to establish an intimate knowledge of the “Area of Influence” (critical to cover the area inside the Protected Area boundaries);
  2. Identifying places of group interactions in rural areas can yield vital information;
  3. Suspecting the poachers and keeping a track on them;
  4. Coastal areas and seas under the country’s jurisdiction should be monitored;
  5. Purchase of legal and illegal sale of guns or materials to poach around the Protected Areas should be carefully monitored. Inside the “Area of Influence”, it is essential to monitor entry and exit points;
  6. Coastal regions have no borders. Thus, water bodies should be examined for signs of poisoning or of attempts at snaring or trapping around it;
  7. The jurisdictional authority needs to be established for enforcement as often the criminal may be in another country.

With corruptions and lax poaching laws prevalent in India with minimal protections for wildlife and lesser punishment to perpetrators, this crime is growing significantly. Most of us are part of the wildlife trade supply chain in some way or the other. According to TRAFFIC, which is a wildlife trade monitoring network, many intermediaries are involved in this trade as collectors of wildlife animals, storage specialists, transportation, manufacturing and production, marketing, and consumer market.[15] It was this severe aspect of the illegal wildlife trade, which meant that wildlife trade is nowanational security, public health, and economic security issue.

Conclusion

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

In 2012, former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton described the illegal wildlife trade as a global challenge which should no longer be contemplated as an environmental concern, but as ‘a global challenge that spans continents and crosses oceans.’[16] Wildlife trade has devastating effects on biodiversity but is also prima facie eroding state authority, fuelling civil conflict, and threatening national security and stability, invoking economic losses. Illegal wildlife trade is no longer a small circle but includes poachers, government officials, and international crime groups, including a range of players across countries facilitating institutional corruption across global network chains.

About the Author

*Diya Chakraborty is working as a Legal Executive with CMA CGM- a shipping company, precisely working in the field of maritime law. She has done her BBA.LLB Hons. from School of Law, Mumbai University’s Thane Sub-Campus. She is actively learning about Maritime Law and is looking forward to doing a post- graduation soon. Raksha Tripathy is a first year law student in her second semester of School of Law, Mumbai University’s Thane Sub-Campus. She is interested in various law subjects like arbitration, human rights and humanitarian law, criminal and constitution law. She is currently researching the rights of LGBTIQ and Women Human Rights.


[1]The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),  https://www.iucnredlist.org/ (last visited on 23.08.2020).

[2] What is CITES? The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), https://cites.org/eng/disc/what.php (last visited on 23.08.2020).

[3]Centre for Environmental Law, World Wide Fund India v Union of India (2013) 8 SCC 234, 256.

[4]Animal and Environment Legal Defence Fund v Union of India and Ors, 1997(2) SCR 728.

[5]State of Tamil Nadu and Another v. M/s. Kaypee Industrial Chemicals Private Ltd, (2005) AIR (Mad) 304 47.

[6]Pradeep Krishen v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2040.

[7]The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, No. 53, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India).

[8]World’s largest tiger skin just a mouse away, Wildlife Trust of India.

[9]Rajendra Kumar Pate vs Union of India (UOI) And Ors. 1996 (0) MPLJ 580.

[10]The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, No. 53, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India).

[11]UNEP-INTERPOL report: value of environmental crime upto 26%, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL),https://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-Events/News/2016/UNEP-INTERPOL-report-value-of-environmental-crime-up-26 (last visited 23.08.2020).

[12]The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, No. 53, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India).

[13]J.P Samuel & Co. Union of India (UOI), 2002 (141) ELT 338 Mad.

[14]The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, No 2 of 1973, Acts of Parliament, 1992 (India).

[15]TRAFFIC, The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, https://www.traffic.org/, (last visited on 23.08.2020).

[16]U.S. Department of State, secretary Hillary Clinton, 2012 http://www.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2012/11/200294.html(last visited on 23.08.2020).

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