WildLife Items

Snake, python, crocodile, alligator and monitor lizard skins, feathers and furs of endangered species and other creatures, are routinely imported into India.

The Customs authorities haven’t been spotting or taking action against those who bring in or import such items probably because the skins do not enter India as raw material, but as designer handbags, shoes and other items – they are simply marked as leather (even cow, calf and ostrich), like “leather shoes” or “leather handbag”.

Snob Appeal

They could be purchased abroad and brought in by smugglers who sell them to celebrities, or they may even come in the celebrities’ own suitcases. Known to afford and covet such cruel “luxurious” branded accessories, and since they cost lakhs of Rupees, when photographed for Page Three, both the celebrity and the product get promoted.

Fashionable handbags, footwear and headgear made from body-parts of killed wild life are thus sported by the rich and famous at high-society events and race courses where incidentally horses suffer intense cruelty behind the scenes.

Some times they are well made replicas of the original products manufactured by international fashion houses and sold under their famous coveted brands, but that doesn’t stop them from being of animal origin. A growing number of luxury firms are fighting sales of expensive fakes over the Internet.

Sneaking in WildLife Items

Some internationally coveted brands have wrist-watches with calf leather or genuine reptile skin straps which are easily imported by their franchises as single units or complete items, not separately as watch-straps or accessories to wrist-watches. And then, there are high-end laptop sleeves and mobile cases of genuine reptile skin that also come in unnoticed as wild life products.

Advertisements and brand promotions target those Indians seeking such ill-conceived status symbols via the use of foreign designer items. They are therefore brazenly advertised in high-society magazines such as Vogue, Hello, and some times in unexpected ones like Businessworld. An office bag made of alligator skin from a fashion house collection sells for over Rs 7,00,000/-, but usually the "price is available on request" and the prospective purchaser needs to place an order with the international company’s store or representative in India. The item is then imported as part of a consignment containing products that are not all wild life derived; and it isn’t even specifically listed or accurately described in full, in the declaration for the authorities.

A few get round the law by importing reptile skin like that of anaconda (similar to python) which gets discreetly mentioned in articles covering luxury goods. Some stores having got away with bringing in items without difficulty, have begun stocking “Limited edition for India” goods like alligator (looks like crocodile) and ostrich clutch bags, whereas other brands continue with their customisation “Made to Order” exclusive and expensive offers of crocodile and other exotic skin “masterpieces”. Men’s shoes have been marketed as made from “exceptional hand waxed alligator leather.”

The good news is that in December 2018 Chanel announced before the Parisian brand held its Métiers d’Art show in New York that they would stop producing items made of skins from lizards, crocodiles, snakes and stingray because it was difficult to obtain these materials ethically. Like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Versace and Burberry, Chanel had already stopped using fur in its collection.

A Part of the Whole

People often feel that a watchstrap is such a small piece of leather. Below are five sound reasons why NOT to use a reptile skin watch-strap:

• A small piece of skin can not be obtained. The whole skin is removed and then cut, so the reptile is first caught and killed.

• A small piece looks small on a wristwatch placed on a human hand, but it is a big portion of the living reptile’s skin.

• Slowly but surely, watchstraps are driving reptiles such as monitor lizards to extinction.

• They will not be killed any way. There is a growing demand from the luxury goods market so, by purchasing watches with reptile skin straps, consumers are indirectly supporting killing for illegal trade.

• Being the skin of a killed creature, it emits negative vibrations which are harmful for the wearer.

If we shun the use of a small piece of reptile skin, then we automatically decide never to use bigger reptile skin (or any other animal leather) items.

Smuggling in and Smuggling out

Crocodiles, giant snakes and monitor lizards are the three largest groups of reptiles that are poached for their skins worldwide. Imports of such wild life items that surreptitiously land in India need to be clamped down upon and not overlooked because they positively result in more poaching of wild life here. It should also not be forgotten that many leather goods made in India are exported to designers abroad and should they ask for say snake skin, the Indian manufacturers may oblige and declare the items as calf leather embossed to look like reptile skin, but on reaching their destination, the items would be labelled as genuine snake skin.


By 2013 wild life poachers had begun to regularly use India Post to smuggle products out of the country – probably sold on-line. Deer antlers, reptile skins, dried snakes, fishes & frogs, sea shells, elephant-ivory and tiger-nails had been intercepted, but unfortunately a high percentage of parcels had left the country undetected. To avoid suspicion, small articles were posted in envelopes as letters. Moreover, the culprits could not be located because the senders’ addresses on the parcels were fictitious. BWC had at the time alerted the Department of Posts, but it was much later in 2015 that they eventually planned on making it mandatory for senders of international parcels to furnish proof of identity. We again wrote them requesting that all the Post Offices in the country should physically check the contents of each and every foreign parcel, and that they should also be rechecked at the Foreign Post Offices via screening prior to onward despatch out of India. A prompt reply from the Department of Posts stated that arrangements for providing more X-ray machines, sniffer dogs, etc. at all OEs was being taken up with the Customs authorities; and, in addition a contact committee comprising of officers of both the departments was constituted in all the Circle and Office of Exchanges.

However, in 2023 the Post Office Bill was passed by Parliament replacing the existing 125-year old Act! The new legislation allows the Centre to intercept, open or detain any item, and deliver it to Customs authorities.

Talking of tiger-nails, in 2021 the Maharashtra Forest Department seized 3 wild animal claws (belonging to a tiger or leopard) from a former Police Patil. Then in 2022, they recovered 6 tiger teeth and body parts of other Schedule I animals including black corals from a traditional medicine practitioner’s clinic at Aurangabad.

This reminded BWC of what happened over 30 years earlier. In 1991 a diamond merchant himself informed BWC saying he had 200 to 300 tiger-nails which he wished to stud with diamonds and emeralds and export as jewellery. He boasted for having paid Rs 2,000/- per piece, but refused to disclose his supply source. Despite taking 3 nails from him and the Bombay Natural History Society confirming that they were of tiger (Panthera tigris), the Forest Department reluctantly filed a case against the offender and he was eventually acquitted on flimsy grounds. BWC had good reason to feel there was connivance involved.

Habitat loss is not the biggest threat for India’s wildlife. From our national animal the tiger, to our national bird the peacock, to beautiful butterflies, there is evidence of clandestine sale of their wildlife body-parts. If not traded in, then eaten – poached and/or smuggled with top level patronage.


The August 2013 luxury special issue of Eye (The Sunday Express supplement) focused on international labels marketed in India – trunk shows in India’s Tier II cities were no longer held to simply create awareness but to facilitate buying. (India’s emerging luxury market expects to grow at 25% reaching $15 billion by 2015.) Throughout the magazine it was subtly ensured that the varieties of leathers utilised for handbags, shoes, etc. were not spelt out and “precious skin” was referred to but once. Unlike earlier, a conscious effort had been made not to highlight skins of wild life. This was obviously because BWC had written to the Minister of Finance requesting that appropriate action via the Central Board of Excise and Customs be taken.

For many years BWC has been pointing out to the Ministry of Environment & Forests that they should not feel that unless wild life products are of Indian origin, it does not concern them. If trade in ivory of Indian and African elephants which falls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) can be implemented, why can’t trade of other wild life skins be similarly stopped, and not only on paper? The wild life authorities need to warn outlets against promotion and import.

On 3 January 2017 the Directorate of Foreign Trade issued an amendment (DGFT Notification No 33/2015-2020) to the import policy prohibiting reptile skins, mink, fox, and chinchilla fur. Moreover, on 28 March 2018 DGFT Public Notice 59 stated “Policy Condition: Import of seal skin, in any form, is prohibited” under Chapter 41, 42 and 43 of ITC (HS), 2017. Unfortunately the 3 January 2017 Policy was reversed from “Prohibited” to “Free” vide Notification No 55/2015-2020 dated 7 January 2021. On getting to know in April 2021 BWC approached the Prime Minister and the Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, as well as the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, to again reverse and place reptile skins, mink, fox, chinchilla and add all animal furs in the Prohibited category of the Import Policy particularly in view of foreign fur farms having closed down due to Covid-19. BWC got to later know that the removal of the import prohibition had been taken up by the Council For Leather Exports and their request was granted.

Online Illegal Trade

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) has revealed that there are about 1,000 websites that offer live wild creatures and wild life body-parts/products which attract the provisions laid down by CITES and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. A few marketing portals have signed a declaration stating that they have a zero-tolerance policy towards their services being used for illegal wildlife trade, but lots of India’s wildlife items continue to found for sale of Indian and foreign usually chat-websites.

In July 2016 the Minister of Environment, Forests & Climate Change told the Rajya Sabha that there were 106 e-tailers advertising sale of rare animals and animal parts and that traffickers operate through mainly vernacular code words on the site of e-tailers. WCCB has now given the website filters to keep a tab. However Amazon, EBay, OLX and Snapdeal claim to have cracked down on such sales.

Different ways and means are used to smuggle poached wild life to their destinations, usually in another country. Selling online, using code words in Hindi such as those below, is an immerging trend to illegally target international buyers:

Animal Pelt/Skin   Chaddar
Tiger Skin   Dhaariwala Chaddar
Leopard Skin   Chotawala Chaddar
Musk/Kasturi   Aaloo
Bear Bile   Pyaaz
Sand Boa   Double Engine or Scooter
Ivory   Pipe

Australian Teddy Bear

  Koala (living)

Any and every thing (more so if considered rare) is requested for, found, bought and sold online. The range is vast: live creatures such as tortoises, parrots, snakes, birds, sea animals and insects are hawked, as are caviar, corals, horns, antlers, mollusca, dried reptiles, preserved butterflies, feathers and mongoose hair. Also ingredients for aphrodisiacs ranging from rhino horn powder (costs more than platinum), tiger/leopard bones (to make wine), ambergris (vomit of whale), monitor lizard penis (hatha jodi), sea cucumbers, turtles, pangolin scales, to caterpillar fungus (keeda jadi/yasar gumba/yatcha gumbo) are always in demand and smugglers’ favorites.


The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s data states the following wildlife and their derivative products are popularly trafficked round the world:

Beluga sturgeon used for caviar
Chiru (Tibetan antelope) used for wool shawls and scarves
Tiger trophies, and bones used for Chinese medicines
Asiatic black bear bile used in Chinese medicines, paws are eaten as a delicacy
Asian elephant used for ivory jewellery and carvings
Bornean orangutans for consumption (bushmeat) and as pets
Radiated and Spider tortoises for consumption (bushmeat) and as pets
Rhino horns used for dagger handles (in Yemen) and in Chinese medicines and aphrodisiacs

African elephant used for ivory souvenirs, jewellery and carvings
Parrots as exotic pets

In 2019 a study published in the US research journal Science stated that analysis of the global wildlife trade had shown that over 5,500 species of amphibians, birds, mammas and reptiles were bought and sold to meet the human demand for meat, medicines, clothing, luxury items and pets. In India 60% of the illegal trade comprised of tortoises, freshwater turtles (star tortoises being nearly half the trade). For example, in August 2022 a Thai Airways flyer to Bangkok was arrested with 60 star tortoises at Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport. They had been stuffed into a check-in bag but luckily none were found dead. They were given to the Bannerghatta zoo.

is difficult to track down traders because of various innovative forms of secrecy employed by sellers and buyers on the internet.

In November 2012 BWC stated in Compassionate Friend and on its websites that “May be India’s wild life personnel do not know that antlers and “deer horns” (one priced at Rs 8 lakhs) are offered for sale by Indians on the olx website.”

Soon after, in the beginning of 2013, India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) began hiring cyber crime specialists to trail online over a thousand websites that were advertising and illegally selling wild life – alive like Giant Ladybirds, Tokay Geckos, Indian Star Tortoises, Hill Mynas, Tarantulas, Sea Horses, Sea Cucumbers, Parakeets; and animal body parts, not only such as the usual tiger skins, ivory and rhino horns, but also bird feathers, musk pods, bear bile, mongoose hair, snake skins and pangolin scales.


Then at the Interpol and CBI conference in July 2013, the Minister of Environment & Forests stated that wild life trade gangs had terror links. However, it was pointed out how difficult for the CBI to investigate crimes against wildlife, because to do so consent was required from all state governments except three (Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) that had accorded the requisite general consent to carry out investigations under section 50(1) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

There was a time when hunting was merely a blood-sport of the rich and famous. It was the British who promoted it and together with the Maharajas wiped out most of India’s teeming wild life. Today high monetary value of wild life carcasses attracts poachers and smugglers who are more often than not involved in other contraband. For example, in 2022 Nashik (Maharashtra) was seen to be fast becoming an illegal hub for living wildlife and wildlife products. Turtles, frogs, hedgehogs were caught en route Mumbai. Pelts of leopards were also seized.

However, Britain is changing: The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill 2022-23, a private member’s ballot bill was introduced in the UK Parliament. It aims to stop the import of wildlife trophies into the country as there were a number of persons who went abroad, not believing that hunting was a blood sport and brought back wildlife carcasses that they called trophies for display. However, there was a strong move to dilute it by ridiculously claiming that hunting helped conservation.

In August 2023 BWC India wrote to the UK Prime Minister introducing BWC as having been started in England in 1959 by Lady Dowding, and stated how happy we were that the Tory Party’s 2019 manifesto had declared that the import of hunting trophies would be banned. We added that hunting of animals was without exception cruel and unethical. We hoped therefore that the Bill would be passed accordingly and without further delay irrespective of where, when, how or which species trophies were sought to be brought into the country.

The Law on our Side

The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 48 A states: “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safe guard the forests and wildlife of the country.”

Furthermore, Article 51 A (g) states: “It shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures”.

Similarly, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 demands conservation of biological diversity.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 covers trade in protected wild life species. If the website on which the advertisement appears is on an Indian server, action can be taken under the Act and electronic evidence used under the terms of Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 should also attract illegal online trade in wild life since it is a crime under Indian law.

CITES covers international trade and is regulated under the Exim Policy 2009-2014 of Government of India.

Under Section 3(3) of the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, fauna and flora covered in the Import Export Policy are deemed to fall under Section 11 of the Customs Act, 1962.

So then, what’s lacking? Undercover work to locate online (as well as physical cross-border) illegal sales; followed by exposure, arrests and punishments. It is far from easy to take on the international wildlife mafia. Cyber laws covering social media to tackle international wildlife trade are urgently required.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change in 2016 let off the on-line seller Amazon with a mere apology for selling a range of products in India that violated our Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and CITES. The products included traps, snares, and some protected wildlife and marine species.

If and after the wildlife articles are confiscated, the ray of hope is that 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.

In 2016 on 5 June, World Environment Day, confiscated wild life products ranging from tusks, fins, skins and shells were burnt at Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Borivali, Mumbai. BWC was glad it was becoming the norm because for the first time ever, in order to bring down the demand for animal products and not put seized wildlife items back into circulation, it was BWC’s idea to destroy them, so in collaboration with the Chief Wildlife Warden, Delhi, and the Government of India, BWC had organized a Bonfire on 18 April 1991 when goods then valued at Rupees seventy lakhs consisting of 548 fur and skin pelts, 286+35 pairs of fur articles, 38 reptile skin articles, 5 black buck horns, 48 leopard skin pelts, 7 leopard skin articles, 1 clouded leopard skin pelt, 5 snow leopard skin articles, 1 tiger skin pelt and 26 miscellaneous wildlife items, were destroyed. Since they had all been confiscated, were sellable/usable, not every one reacted favourably to the bonfire. Certain persons questioned “if a poor country like ours could afford to destroy such valuable stocks?” The answer we gave convinced them: Yes it can – does India not destroy confiscated drugs of much higher value? If those confiscated items were to be put up for sale/auctioned in India or abroad, the very purpose of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, would be defeated.

BWC was again very pleased to know that on 22 September 2021, World Rhino Day, the state government of Assam cremated 2,400 rhino horns amid chanting of Vedic mantras at Bokakhat, 23 kms from the Kaziranga National Park. The horns were those that had been extracted from naturally or accidentally dead rhinos, along with those that had been confiscated from arrested poachers; and they had been stored for more than 4 decades in the state’s government treasury in order to stop their illegal trade. In 2022 no rhinos were found to be poached; but in March and May 2023 incidents of rhino poaching were reported from Manas National Park; and in January 2024 a female one-horned rhino’s body again without its horn was found at Kaziranga National Park when patrolling.

At the SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal that guards our borders) seminar “Role of Security forces in Combating Wildlife Crime” held in September 2017, it was noted that wildlife seizures by the SSB were on the rise since 2014 with state-wise cases during this period:

125 West Bengal
54  Uttar Pradesh
36 Bihar
29 Assam

As many as 105 seizures were of Tokay geckos, followed by dead/live deer, deerskin, rhino horns, sand-boas, skin and bones of tigers and leopards, elephant ivory and tortoises/turtles.

As many as 90,000 critically endangered turtles were caught being trafficked as pets, for food or aphrodisiacs by the Special Task Force (Wildlife) in Madhya Pradesh in 2017 which led to the arrest of 16 persons in the case who received a stringent 7-year sentence.

In 2017 the WCCB with the help of some NGOs who did undercover investigations, caught traders of hatha-jodi (claimed to be the root of a plant, but actually the dried penis of a monitor lizard) saying it imparted good luck and mystical powers on the libido. Male lizards having hemi penis are captured from the wild. The area around the living lizard’s penis is burnt so it protrudes. It is then excised with a sharp knife and sun-dried. It resembles joined hands hence called hatha-jodi. In 2021 Traffic-WWF announced that “buying was stealing” with the demand for hatha-jodi having resulted in an increase in poaching and illegal trade in monitor lizards, so much so that the survival of the 4 species found in India was at stake.

For years BWC had strongly objected to the Government of India’s policy of permitting trade in ivory of African origin. BWC felt that all elephants should be protected – not only Indian elephants. Finally, in 1992 the Government imposed a total ban on trade in ivory, whether African or India, for export or for internal consumption.

Despite this ban ivory continued to be clandestinely sold and bought.

According to a 2016 article from India Today the domestic market was booming in elephant tusk products resulting in 4 raids over 6-8 months including Maharashtra and Kerala which yielded about 13 kgs. A trader from Delhi had been arrested in 2015 with the biggest ivory stocks found in India: 487 kgs worth Rs 12 crore and on his tips at least 90 poachers had been arrested.

In 2019 a man from Telangana was arrested in Pune for trying to sell 4 carved elephant tusks for Rs 80 lakh but was estimated to fetch Rs 3.50 crore in the illegal international market.

In July 2020 it came to light that at least 60 elephants had been poached in the forests of Tamil Nadu for 375 kgs of ivory (from at least 60 elephants) in the last 10 years; and 2 persons were to blame for 300 kgs of this quantity which had been sold by them to a smuggler. For reasons best known to the TN Forest Department, on 3 occasions they had apprehended these 2 persons, obtained confessions from them, but allowed them to go out on bail and they continued poaching. However, in February 2021 acting on a report by WCCB which stated that TN elephants were being poached by people from other states and that no action was being taken against the middlemen and kingpins, the Madras High Court ordered a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) probe into all elephant poaching cases in the state. Citing recent deaths of at least 8 elephants and the recovery of 300 kgs ivory from the accused 2 persons, the Court went on to ask how only male elephants had got electrocuted.

In view of this, it is not surprising that in March 2022, a jewellery shop in Salem was found selling items made from ivory which was first claimed to be artificial, then that of deer horn. Fox teeth were also found.

35 ivory tusks were also seized in March 2022 at Jaipur by the Special Operations Group of Rajasthan Police and the WCCB who nabbed 2 Uttar Pradesh policemen and 2 aides.

During a joint raid by the WCCB and the West Bengal Forest Department, 4 ivory statues were seized in Hooghly district in April 2022.  As a matter of policy in order to stop smuggling, the Government of India did not value them.

In May 2022, 6 elephant tusks weighing 9 kgs were seized and a person was arrested at Balangir district of Odisha by the Special Task Force of the Crime Branch. Again in June 2022 the STF arrested a person at Angul district of Odisha and seized 2 elephant tusks weighing 4.5 kgs.

In July 2022 the Assam Wildlife Bureau and Forest Division arrested 2 persons with 9 ivory tusks weighing 6 kgs.

In August 2022 the WCCB and Telangana Forest officials seized 26 pieces of ivory jewellery from a seller in Hyderabad. Here again both genuine and fake ivory was being sold.

In January 2023 Gujarat seemed to have become a hotbed for ivory smuggling in India with carvings being sold via social media under the guise of antique items; when raided by the WCCB and Gujarat SPCA not only were ivory idols, but also two rhino horns found. Then during April 2023 in an undercover operation, an ex-aide of the late notorious poacher Veerappan was caught along with others in Gujarat for trying to sell ivory. Ivory tusks weighing a total of 13.9 kgs were found.

Surprisingly GST (Goods & Service Tax) had been listed for wildlife trophies/articles including ivory, tortoise-shell and horns. Hopefully this tax was removed upon receiving a complaint from an animal activist in 2023 and such banned wild life items are no longer treated as goods and commodities after the Excise and Taxation Department Haryana informed the GST Policy Wing. Moreover, BWC hopes that no trademarks are issued for wild life items.

Calipee, the medicinal delicacy that is found inside the lower half of the turtle shell, is processed and frequently smuggled out from India to Bangladesh (from where it goes to China) without it being detected for what it is because it is claimed to be fish scales or buffalo horn extracts. The cost of 1 kg of processed calipee is only Rs 3,000/- in India, but its price soars to Rs 12,000/- in Bangladesh.

On 22 May 2019 to mark the International Day of Biological Diversity, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau displayed “Not all animal migrate by choice” at all airports. In this first phase of their awareness campaign against illegal trade in wildlife, the tiger, pangolin, star tortoise and Tokay gecko were chosen to be highlighted.

BWC hopes that a rise in the number of seizures does not mean that smuggling has increased, but indicates that the SSB is being more vigilant in apprehending smugglers. It is good that even live wildlife smuggled into the country has being apprehended as in February 2019 when the customs at Chennai found a sedated leopard cub in the stroller baggage of a passenger from Bangkok. A few months later in June 2019 a 3-month old lion cub and 3 critically endangered primates (none of them from India) were found in four nylon bags stitched at the mouth, inside a vehicle on the Belgharia Express, being smuggled from Bangla Desh en route to a private zoo in Western India. In 2018, 2 gibbons had also been seized on the Basanti Highway by the WCCB.

In 2019 the WCCB of India and the UN Environment launched a pictorial campaign to raise awareness at airports. It was entitled “Not all Animals Migrate by Choice” and featured tiger, pangolin, star tortoise and Tokay gecko.

The January-March 2019 issue of Hornbill covered Trafficking Wildlife such as rhinos, leopards, pangolins, elephants, leopards, deer, civets, turtles, drongo tail feathers, turtles, owls, francolins, primates, parakeets, porcupines, swiftlets nests, stuffed squirrels, mongoose hair, sea horses, hatha jodi or monitor lizards penis, yasar gumba or caterpillar fungus, wild birds, frogs legs, musk deer pods, Tibetan antelope or chiru for shahtoosh, etc.

In October 2019 a new global study by the Researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Sheffield (as published in the journal Science) stated that 1 in every 5 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are bought and sold on the wildlife market. It went on to state as follows:

  Traded as Pets Traded as Products
Birds 45% 63%
Mammals 34% 90%
Amphibians 51% 31%
Reptiles 49% 34%

There was an attempt in October 2019 to smuggle 7 healthy reptiles (1 green tree python, 1 scrub python and 5 endangered species of lizards) from Malaysia into India. The Indian Customs officials at Chennai discovered them with two passengers and decided to send the reptiles back to Kuala Lumpur. But this did not happen in 2022 when over 600 exotic animals from Malaysia were smuggled in Mumbai. The Air Cargo Complex Customs had cleared the consignment so the DRI took the number of the vehicle and intercepted it on Vile Parle flyover. 665 (548 alive and 117 dead) pythons, lizards, turtles and iguanas were found concealed in 13 cartons. The consignment also consisted of 16 cartons of containing ornamental fish.

Also in 2019 300 iguanas stuffed in small boxes with snakes packed in small coke bottles inside a suitcase were found at Trichy airport in Tamil Nadu. The consignment included 20 Malaysian tortoises, various spiders and scorpions. Zebras, African grey parrots and even live leopard cubs have been found. Other airport seizures in recent years have included Aldabra tortoises from Seychelles, tamarins (small primates) from the Amazon and hyacinth macaws from Central America. Exotic pets costing lakhs of rupees are flaunted on social media. Kangaroos hopping in videos taken in Bengal have been uploaded. Live wild life comes into India illegally through porous borders of Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. In 2020, 5 cages siamangs (apes native to South East Asia) were also found being transported in Assam in boxes packed with other wild life such as a kangaroo, 6 hyacinth macaws, 2 capuchin monkeys form South America and 3 Aldabra giant tortoises. The sad part is that most animals are found either dead or gravely injured. In July 2021 a postal parcel received at Chennai airport from Poland was found to have vials crawling with 107 live tarantulas native to South and Central America.

In January 2020 Indian Customs at Chennai arrested 3 persons with 2 marmosets, 3 rodents (1 dead), 2 squirrels and 12 iguanas, and seized and returned them to Bangkok.

Also in January 2020, 5 kg ambergris was washed ashore at Devanampattinam in Cuddalore, and was taken over by the Fisheries as well as Forest Departments of Tamil Nadu and proposed to be destroyed. Thereafter frequent seizures including the biggest ever of 80 kgs of ambergris in Bengaluru during August 2021, and further arrests continued to take place in different parts of India every month till March 2022. Thereafter the Maharashtra Police seized 5.29 kgs ambergris in November 2022 at Pune, and 5.70 kgs in February 2023 at Sangli. This was followed by 18.10 kgs seized at Tuticorin (TN) in May 2023 by the DRI, and then in June 2023 at Bengaluru 6.50 kgs by Karnataka’s CCB. Once again in September 2023 the Pune Police found 5.24 kgs valued over Rs 5 crore in the backpack of a carrier. BWC thinks ambergris may be routed via India to different countries. Since 1 kg ambergris fetches Rs 1 crore BWC also feels it is very likely that a considerable number of consignments containing ambergris have been smuggled undetected.

Officials from coastal Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka felt that the sudden spike in ambergris seizures was because of greater awareness among the coastal fishing community resulting from stories in the media of fishermen whose lives are said to have changed overnight on finding ambergris, as well as a slowdown in international trade due to flight restrictions after Covid-19, however, there were few buyers within India. The Illegal Trade of Marine Species in India 2015-21 Report by the Wildlife Conservation Society recorded 36 ambergris seizures.

The same Illegal Trade of Marine Species in India 2015-21 Report states 120 sea cucumbers, 18 sea fans (a variety of coral), 16 seahorse & pipefish, and 16 seashells, corals & calcareous sponge marine wildlife was seized and cases registered during this 7 year period. They were being smuggled to China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Dubai.

In November 2019 it was commendable that forest officials of Odisha laid a trap by approaching a pangolin smuggler as traders and nabbed the man who was trying to sell a 10 kg pangolin for Rs 2 lakh. Then in May 2022 when another pangolin seizure took place, the Special Task Force of Odisha declared that during the last two years 13 pangolins and 30 kgs of scales worth Rs 6 crores had been seized. The Forest Department even found out that pangolin scales were in great demand by foreign tourists during the Rath Yatra in Puri. Since pangolin scales periodically seized are accounted for in kilograms it clearly indicates that poaching them is going from bad to worse – worldwide they (and their body parts) are the most illegally trafficked creatures.

In November 2022 a woman from Pune was arrested on arrival from the general compartment of the Nilanchal Express train at Tatanagar, Jamshedpur (Jharkhand) with 2 sand boas, 1 albino python, 4 red pythons, 19 ball pythons, 12 green pythons and 300 spiders & chameleons. She said she was a courier and had received Rs 8,000/- from a Dimapur (Nagaland) based person for transporting the consignment. The seized creatures, valued around Rs 5 crore, were handed over to the Forest Department who suspected this consignment was a part of a large smuggling network.

In 2023 the Enforcement Directorate said that they had away from the media glare been cracking down against smuggling of wildlife parts and claimed to have busted cases which generated proceeds of crime in 42 wildlife cases and attached Rs 123 crore.

The February 2023 issue of the National Geographic carried an article entitled “These Boots Were Made of What?” in which an American company was selling boots claiming to be made from Indian elephant leather.

Two persons were arrested by the Special Task Force (STF) of Assam Police in connection with a seizure of Royal Bengal tiger skin and bones in June 2023. Then in August 2023, STF together with a team from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) Assam unit, also arrested 5 persons who had poached in Kaziranga National Park, and recovered 12 ivory pieces, 2 tiger canines/teeth, 15 rhino hooves, 1 deer antler and over 1 kg of pangolin scales. The Police filed a case against the accused relating to “prohibition of hunting” and “trade or commerce of wild animals or animal articles” under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

In January 2024 the West Bengal Forest Department arrested a retired senior official of the Sikkim Police from a Hotel in Darjeeling district with 2 smuggled musk pods and a rare Himalayan flying squirrel skin, he was hoping to sell to someone probably coming from Delhi. In another incident a joint team of officers from the state Forest Department Police and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau arrested 3 persons from Birbhum district with 2 elephant tusks weighing 14.2 kgs.

In March 2024 Thailand’s Customs arrested 6 Indians at Bangkok’s Suvarnabumi international airport attempting to fly out to Mumbai with a red panda and snakes, parrots and monitor lizards among the 87 animals seized. The suspects face upto 10 years in prison. BBC reported “Thailand is a major transit hub for wildlife smugglers. The animals are usually sold in China and Vietnam, but India has become a growing market.”

This page proves that wild life is being smuggled not only out of but also into and via India. Traffickers make good use of technology ranging from PUBG chat to hacking GPS collars to get their hands on wildlife.

Page last updated on 08/03/24