Some times the non-material aspect of an action conveys a meaning which is far more powerful than the material losses and gains. For example, prior to independence, India’s Swadeshi Movement included public bonfires of foreign-made cloth (and other items) which gave a push to Khadi. Decades later, it continues to be a source of inspiration. That movement had the blessings of no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi himself although it could be argued then also, that clothing instead of being burnt, could have been passed on to the poor and the needy.
Wild Life Items Incinerated
When ever Kenya burns confiscated ivory it is “good news”. The country does not tolerate poaching of elephants and the government is determined to end it.
It has been internationally established that the only way to put an end to illegal trade in wildlife products, is to bring down the demand. This means that not only should damaged stock, but also usable stock of all confiscated items, be destroyed by Government.
An alternate measure like creating a fund for animals out of the proceeds arising from the sale of the articles which would have otherwise been burnt was also considered, but rejected since found to be self-defeating – the prohibited items would be effectively brought back into circulation thus keeping such demands alive. Also, under the cover of re-sale for the benefit of animals, poaching cum illegal production of similar items such as trophies of wildlife on the prohibited list could very well occur.
In 1990 Beauty Without Cruelty convinced the Ministry of Environment & Forests to request all State Wildlife Departments to destroy seized items because if such items were to be put back into circulation, the very purpose of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, would be defeated.
Then, for the first time ever, in order to bring down the demand for animal products and not put seized wildlife items back into circulation, Beauty Without Cruelty in collaboration with the Chief Wildlife Warden, Delhi and the Government of India organized a Bonfire in 1991 when goods worth Rs 70 lakhs were destroyed. Initially many felt burning products of animal origin was not environmentally friendly, but on fuller consideration agreed that it would give a fillip to the cause of not utilising wildlife items.
Since then, seized wildlife articles began being occasionally destroyed by the Central and Delhi governments in the closed incinerator at the National Zoological Park at New Delhi. In 2005 the items included herbal cosmetics containing endangered plant species, bangles made of Trochus niloticus a species of very large sea snail, and capiz shell handicrafts.
Then in November 2014 the new Union Minister of Environment & Forests declared that to demonstrate the country’s commitment towards protection of its flora and fauna the Government would start destroying its entire stockpile of seized illegal wildlife articles including products derived from tigers, leopards, lions, snakes, deer, mongoose, elephants, owls and shells. They were pulverised and burnt in the incinerator at the National Zoological Park in Delhi.
On 4 November 1994 the Government of India directed all state governments to liquidate seized and confiscated wildlife items by burning them if no court case was pending. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.
The Act says that “where any meat, uncured trophy, specified plant or part or derivative thereof is seized, under the provisions of this section, the assistant director of wildlife preservation or any other officer of a gazetted rank authorised by him on his behalf or the chief wildlife warden or the authorised officer may arrange for the disposal of the same in such a manner as may be prescribed”.
A decade later in 2003 when a Notification (click here for Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules) was issued, the Assam government was still wondering whether or not to implement the Government of India’s order directing it to burn all confiscated wildlife items, including ivory – the largest stock in the country consisting of 1,126 pieces weighing 5,577 kgs of seized and dead elephants’ ivory.
However in March 2010, Assam publicly burnt 1,500 stockpiled (in the state’s treasury since 1978) rhino horns, most of which were seized from poachers from the Kaziranga National Park, smugglers or collected from carcasses of rhinos who died naturally. This gave out a strong message that poaching and illegal trade will no longer be overlooked by the authorities. The burning met with resistance from the Karbi Anglong District Autonomous Council demanding that the rhino horns be kept in museums for preservation, as a result of which the rhino horn lying in the Diphu treasury since 1997 could not be burnt.
In December 2007, the largest single agglomeration of wildlife skins any where in the world, consisting of 8 truckloads of 125,000 stockpiled wildlife furs and skins items (pelts, garments, etc.) valued at US$ 2,500,000 were burnt in Jammu & Kashmir. Compensation was given to those furriers who willingly surrendered their stock.
In 2006 in response to an appeal from the Dalai Lama around 3,000 Tibetans signed a pledge not to wear, buy or sell wildlife products. It was followed by burning of wild animal skins in Tibet and Dharamshala.
The Manipur Forest Training School took a step in the right direction by burning an assortment of confiscated wildlife products in 2012. The articles included pangolin scales, dried seahorses and rhino toenails.
Destruction of Carcasses
Along the same lines, in 1995 BWC convinced the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) that animal carcasses should be disposed off and not auctioned and put back into circulation. Accordingly, the CZA issued a directive to all zoos in India that disposal of carcasses should be either by burying or burning and that none of them should be skinned or made into trophies as it encourages trade in wild life.
In April 2012, BWC was shocked to know that the state government of Karnataka was distributing seized ivory tusks to Officers’ Messes and educational institutions for display. We therefore approached the Ministry of Environment & Forests to immediately stop such illegal displays. It was pointed out that it went against the very purpose of the Wild Life Act and that confiscated wild life items had in the past been destroyed/burnt; in fact, the Government of India should immediately insist that all states implement destruction promptly and not display any wild life trophies any where including in museums, clubs, messes, and educational institutions. It was a ridiculously wrong notion that such displays could promote education. If display (instead of destruction) was allowed we would begin seeing not only ivory tusks, but also tiger skins, bear heads, and many other wild life trophies displayed in different institutions of our country, following which the Ministry might as well be closed down because it will be next to impossible to protect our wild life because the idea of protecting wild life is so that it is not killed and turned into trophies for display.
Following an article on the subject in BWC’s Compassionate Friend (Monsoon 2012), in October 2012 the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau wrote to Vice-Chancellors of all Universities, CBSE Chairman, and ICSE Secretary (with a copy of all the Chief Wildlife Wardens) pointing out that acquisition/possession of wild animals or their trophies without permission in writing from authorized officers was an offence; and the illegal display of wild animal trophies in their museums or as laboratory specimens would carry a punishment of up to seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Many officers’ messes continue to display wild animal trophies like mounted heads and pelts on walls, stuffed wildlife, horns, ivory tusks and elephant leg stools. For example, the Garhwal Rifles Officers’ Mess at Landsdowne, Uttarakhand, not only has illegally held wild life trophies of animals hunted in India, but also some brought in by the British from Italy, Iran, Afghanistan and Tanzania. They include those of the tiger, leopard, lion, bear, musk deer, bison, thar and ibex.
Incidentally, poaching was so rampant that in the early twentieth century only a hundred Nilgiri Tahr were left. By placing plantain leaves along their path, hunters made them slip and fall after which they were killed for their meat, and some heads with horns were mounted as hunting trophies.
On seeing such displays, heartless people get tempted to own trophies themselves. It is a so-called status symbol because having been illegally obtained and traded in by poachers and smugglers, the wildlife items are very prohibitively expensive. For example, in August 2014, six persons travelling in a four-wheeler from Solapur to Mumbai were intercepted and arrested on the highway for being in possession of an elephant tusk weighing 3.7 kilograms valued at Rs 33.3 lakh.
Coincidentally, some days later the Heritage Animal Task Force estimated that during the last 12 months, 78 elephants had “mysteriously” died in Kerala’s forests having being killed with poisoned pineapples, jackfruits and mangos. These killings were presumed to be basically because wild elephants had emerged as a major threat or nuisance for plantations, agricultural farms and tourism projects that had come along elephant corridors.
Wildlife poachers and smugglers have taken to using the India Post because a high percentage of parcels go through undetected. The country’s Foreign Post Offices situated at Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, together with their sub-offices at Kochi, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Jaipur, have found wildlife items such as deer antlers, reptile skins, elephant-ivory and tiger-nails in parcels. But unfortunately the culprits can not be located because the senders’ addresses on the parcels are fictitious. Such confiscated items should also be destroyed by the wildlife officials.
In view of the above, BWC wrote to the Department of Posts in 2013 and the following year to the new Minister of Communications & Information Technology suggesting that it be made mandatory for Post Offices to physically check parcels booked for abroad and prior to these parcels leaving India the Foreign Post Offices should re-check them via screening.
Thank goodness game hunting along with its trappings ended with the British Raj. Cheetahs trained for the purpose face extinction today, and we are still struggling to increase the population of tigers, rhinos and bears.
Poachers rarely shoot animals in India today. Hunting is not only illegal here, but these days most Indians consider it outrageous to pose for a photograph with a wild animal that has been shot. Four photos of a Maharashtra state minister along with a rifle and killed wild life (zebra, impala, springbuck and wildebeest) taken on her visit to South Africa in summer 2012 were found on the internet. She was totally insensitive – to humans as well when they demanded her resignation at seeing the photos – saying she had broken no law! However, she was indirectly encouraging wild life poaching in India.
During the same year (2012) an individual from Chandigarh shot a lion and obtained permission from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade to bring it from South Africa. However, in 2013 the Ministry of Environment & Forests quite rightly refused a no-objection certificate stating “This ministry has taken a policy decision to discourage import of look-alike hunting trophies which are look-alike India fauna. In this regards, this is to inform that the African lion trophy is a look-alike of Asiatic lion and hence is not allowed for import.” However, the hunter approached the Punjab & Haryana High Court and was surprisingly allowed to import the trophy in January 2014, pending the ultimate fate of the case.
Culling is actually hunting. Animals such as neelgai, wild boar, porcupine, deer, hare, monkey, parrots, peacocks and other wildlife have been declared by some states as vermin and therefore legally hunted. Humans have encroached forest land – wildlife does not know the new forest boundaries, they therefore stray into human occupied areas and fields, resulting in man-animal conflicts and this gives an excuse to hunt.
Then there is taxidermy which is preparing, stuffing and mounting the heads, skins, etc. of animals for display, e.g. hunting trophies or museum displays.
Destroy, not Display
The above covers wildlife. What about other products derived from animal carcasses? Shouldn’t they too be destroyed irrespective of their artistic or antique value? Individuals may possess, but no longer want to use certain items of animal origin or give/sell them to others.
People need to decide for themselves what to do, however Beauty Without Cruelty urges them to destroy or at least make sure the products are kept away and not put into circulation.
Examples of such products are given below:
Animal Trophies: mounted heads, stuffed animals
Ivory: show pieces, statues, jewellery, painted sheets, inlay work, entire tusks
Reptile Skin: footwear, belts, purses, straps, office materials, handbags, garments
Leather – exotic, endangered or otherwise: footwear, hand-bags, wallets, belts, straps, garments, suitcases, diary covers, furniture covers, office materials, cricket balls
Silk: garments, sarees, accessories, painted show pieces on silk, carpets, wall hangings, embroidery thread
Cosmetics & Toiletries: toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, creams, lotions, lipsticks, nail polish, chap sticks, hair preparations, powders, make-up items, after shave lotions, deodorants
Perfumes – containing fixatives such as musk/kasturi: attars, ottos, concentrate, scents, eau de toilette, eau de cologne
Shells, Conches and Mother of Pearl: show pieces, lamp shades, jewellery, in-lay work, flower pots, paper weights
Coral: jewellery, showpieces
Animal Hair: hair brushes, shaving brushes, boot polish brushes, wall painting brushes, artist’s brushes, carpet brushes
Fur: garments, headgear, hand-bags, show pieces
Shellac/Lac: show pieces, jewellery, sealing wax
Bone: show pieces, jewellery, inlay work
Horn, Antlers, Claws/Nails, Teeth: show pieces, jewellery
Feathers: show pieces, fans, brushes, greeting cards, quilts, head wear, accessories
Animal body parts – like bile and fat: medicine