Wildlife trading networks have cross-border links: CBI chief

New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) Illegal wildlife trading networks have cross-border linkages and there is need for greater coordination between the security agencies of different countries to deal with this threat, CBI director Ranjit Sinha said here Monday.

Sinha also noted that India faces formidable challenges in the protection of tigers in the wild.

Speaking at the inauguration of a seminar on “Integrated Investigative Capacity Building and Operational Planning for Asian Big Cat Related Crimes for South Asia” here, Sinha said the estimated 1,706 tigers were spread over 43 reserves, and fell under the jurisdiction of 17 state governments.

“India is home to nearly half the worldwide population of tigers. The challenge to protect these is formidable,” he said.

Sinha said the loss and fragmentation of habitat, large scale and organised poaching fostered by international demand, unregulated mining in tiger landscapes and increasing demand on forests for developmental projects continue to challenge the efforts to save the tiger.

“The most insidious and immediate threat to the tiger is the illegal trade in its bone and other parts. Wildlife trade is now well entrenched and widespread in India. The problem of demand is one of the most daunting and complex issues facing tiger conservation,” he said.

Sinha said five species of big cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards, were all are endangered, mainly due to habitat loss, poaching, and dwindling numbers of their prey.

The CBI chief said the Indian government has always accorded tiger protection top priority. Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has brought the species back from the brink of extinction, he said.

Sinha said a poaching spree in the early ’90s had threatened to undermine Project Tiger and the stories of loss of tigers in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan in 1997 shocked the nation.

“When the tragedy of the tiger continued to unfold in 2005, in Sariska Tiger reserve this time (also in Rajasthan), the nation was jolted into action,” he added.

He said the CBI’s investigation revealed the activities of a highly organised and extensive network of poachers actively operating in Sariska during 2002 to 2005.

Noting that Project Tiger has been turned into the National Tiger Conservation Authority, he said the project strives to streamline scientific modules of conservation and co-opt communities as responsible stakeholders.

He said the government also constituted the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in 2007.

“With this multi-agency framework, I sincerely hope we may succeed in conserving our wildlife heritage,” he said.

Sinha said India has nearly 6.5 percent of world’s known wildlife species and global demand for wildlife products puts at risk the country’s mega diversity.

The CBI director said that low risk of detection, huge profits and numerous cross-border routes had made illegal trade in animal parts an increasingly attractive business.

“The changing market dynamics and lifestyles make the existing regulatory regimes inadequate in dealing with wildlife crimes assuming organised status,” he said, adding that to effectively counter this threat, we need greater coordination between the intelligence agencies and enforcement agencies, transcending national boundaries.”

Sinha said the CBI had a robust incident-response capability and has acquired sufficient expertise in investigation of cases having inter-state and international ramifications, and organised crimes.

The CBI in collaboration with Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme has organised the five-day capacity building workshop which is being attended by participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Bhutan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

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