Wildlife trafficking through post surges in India

By Richa Sharma, IANS,

New Delhi : There has been a sharp surge in the trafficking of wildlife articles through Foreign Post Offices (FPOs) in India with the latest figures available with the environment ministry revealing an over 400 percent jump in cases in 2009 compared to the past few years.

Support TwoCircles

Sending parcels or even letters containing wildlife articles through FPOs at New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai and four sub FPOs at Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Cochin is perhaps the most common strategy adopted by the traffickers.

The number of cases has sky-rocketed from 18 cases detected at FPOs in 2005 to 100 in 2009. The figures for 2007 and 2008 were 32 and 85 respectively.

In the past decade, hundreds of postal parcels containing contraband like ivory articles, tiger nails, horns of bison, deer, wild sheep, and goats, butterflies, mongoose hair brushes, snakes, lizard skins, medicinal herbs, seeds, orchids, red sanders wood and sea shells among others, were detected. Now, the smugglers have switched to letters.

“It is observed that mostly small articles of wild fauna and flora are traded through FPOs. Dried snakes, fishes, sea shells, dried herbal plant products and other such small articles can be posted as letter parcels as these are hardly opened by the customs at the exit points by default and it avoids any kind of suspicion,” an environment ministry official told IANS.

For bigger items, the smugglers take a chance on parcels, on the chance that even if it is detected, the trail will not lead back to them.

“Since the booking of postal parcels in a fictitious name is very easy and content of the parcel is not verified at the receiving counter of post offices, the illegal traders feel it safe to dispatch contraband wildlife articles through postal parcels under false declarations,” he said.

Moreover, even if such parcels are intercepted at a later stage by the law enforcement agencies, it becomes very difficult to trace the actual culprits in the absence of a genuine address.

The post offices hand over the articles to customs authorities but there are no provisions regarding identification of the person at the time of booking letter/parcels.

“Each parcel being booked has to carry a customs declaration form which in many cases is missing. Declaration of the goods is necessary for both export and import of materials through FPO. There has been a change in trend of smuggling of wildlife substances and an analytical study needs to be done,” the environment ministry official said.

The ministry also thinks there is a need for awareness and sensitisation of field personnel of post offices to check this.

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and chairperson of Wildlife SoS, said wildlife trade is a multi-million dollar industry and the second largest illegal trade after narcotics. FPOs are a convenient mode of trade.

“Postal order and railways are the common modes of transportation of wildlife contraband. Traffickers pack these items as biological material and send it conveniently to the destination. There is need to create awareness among post officials about items banned under law so that they are able to identify them and take action,” he said.

Belinda Wright, executive director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), said there is a need to revamp the postal systems.

“People on this duty should have a list of prohibited items so that they can verify the items,” she said.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])