Anyone who has had the privilege of watching a leopard tread ghost-like in the vast wilderness, kept the company of a pod of blue whales or given way to the noble form of a wild elephant cannot help but profess unwavering commitment to their protection. However, there are also those animals, like the pangolin, whose dull colours may not fire our imaginations or marine creatures like the chambered nautilus and sharks, whose mysterious lives may not command our attention. And yet, these animals are illegally caught and traded across a worldwide criminal network.
While the Indian government remains committed to ending threats that emerge from beyond its borders, CITES regulations and similar policies are effective only upon implementation.
Recognizing the dangers posed to these species, the Government of India will be sending its representatives to the 17th meeting of Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora being held in Johannesburg this September to seek stricter controls on the trade of these animals. Below are animals found in India in need of improved CITES protection. Humane Society International will also be there, pushing for the protection of these and many other wild animals and plants.
Indian pangolin and Chinese pangolin
Pangolins are comical-looking scaly, insectivorous mammals found in Asia and Africa, but the dangers they face are no laughing matter. While they assume the ecological role of keeping ants and termites in check, they are captured for their scales, blood and other body parts which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite any scientific proof of their efficacy. In the last decade alone, one million wild-caught pangolins were believed to have been poached, making them the most trafficked mammal worldwide. Currently, all species are listed under Appendix II of the CITES which enforces strict regulations on trade.
India is home to the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla; found in the Himalayan foothills of the north and northeast) and the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata; found across the Indian subcontinent, south of the Himalayas). Both sub-species are listed under Schedule I of India's Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which bans their capture, hunting and trade. However, the government believes that an international network of protection will serve as an effective deterrent to the illegal trade and thus supports the uplisting of the Indian and Chinese pangolins to Appendix 1 of the CITES, which will result in a ban on commercial trade in the species globally.
Looking at a chambered nautilus is akin to getting a glimpse into history. Chambered nautiluses (Nautilus pompilius) are marine invertebrates that have chambered shells, with distinctive patterns. They are the last living remnants of cephalopods that evolved 450 million years ago. They inhabit tropical, coastal reef and deep water habitats of the Indo-Pacific region. They are reportedly found along the Indian coast in the Andaman Sea. They require an extremely specialized habitat and cannot survive in waters that are too warm or too deep and are usually found in isolated populations.
Their colourful, patterned shells are considered to have high ornamental value and are sold whole as souvenirs or converted to items of jewellery and home décor. As they are slow to mature and have a low productivity rate, populations cannot recoup with the current rate of unregulated harvesting, either as by-catch or targeted fishing. Chambered nautiluses are opportunistic predators and scavengers and perform important roles in the process of energy flow, nutrient recycling and stabilising marine food webs. India has listed the chambered nautilus under Schedule I of the WPA, 1972. It further supports the enlisting of this animal on Appendix II, so as to regulate trade and thereby, prevent the overexploitation of this naturally rare species.
Silky shark and thresher shark
Last year India banned the export of shark fins. Now, the government will be supporting the inclusion of silky sharks and thresher sharks in Appendix II of the CITES. Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) inhabit the warm tropical waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Thresher sharks (genus Alopias spp.) are found almost all across the world's tropical and temperate waters. Both species are apex predators and vital to the health of the ocean's ecosystem. They are caught in large numbers by target and by-catch fisheries to meet the international demand for fins and meat as well as leather, teeth and oil.
Humane Society International/India worked closely with the government to lobby for improved protective measures under CITES. While it is indeed laudable that the Indian government remains committed to ending threats that emerge from beyond its borders, CITES regulations and similar policies are effective only upon implementation.
In India, CITES provisions are implemented through the Export–Import Policy under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act of 1992 and Customs Act of 1962. According to the EXIM policy, trade in all animals and plants listed in Schedules I-IV of the WPA, 1972 is prohibited. The export/import of all wildlife products is subject to compliance with CITES provisions and Section 11 of the Customs Act, 1962. Violations of the EXIM policy in general and CITES in particular, constitute an offence under the Customs Act,1962. However, the EXIM policy lacks the provision of specific penalties for possession of illegally traded specimens. Moreover, a number of invertebrate animals, such as corals and molluscs, as well as non-native wildlife species, do not come within the ambit of these regulations. Therefore, the next step will be to bring in legislation to enable the implementation of CITES regulations and recommendations. This legislation will proffer greater protection for India's animals from illicit trade across its borders and also help in regulating the import of wild animals for domestic trade.
While the government does its bit to ensure greater protection for wildlife, you can also contribute towards ending the illicit international trade by avoiding products such as food and derived from animals and their parts and by not participating in activities that encourage wildlife trade such as tiger shows, elephant rides, shark cage diving etc. You can also take Humane Society International's Don't Buy Wild pledge and join us in ending the illegal wildlife trade.