The world is paying a price for illegal wildlife trade: analysis
India faced its first poaching crisis in 1992, thanks to high demand for tiger skins and body parts from China. When I heard this, I wrote to the Dalai Lama about how Tibetans were also involved in the smuggling of dead tigers. I received an immediate response from him, indicating his support for conservation.
In a letter dated February 15, 1994, he wrote: “I am extremely disappointed to receive reports that Tibetans are involved in the illegal trade in tiger skins, bones, etc. They also tell me that Tibetans may be involved in the slaughter of animals for These products This is totally against the basic Buddhist concept of reverence for life and my personal concern for animal life, plants, the environment and the planet itself … I hope that the people involved in these despicable activities are properly punished. “
However, over the next two decades, India faced great demand pressure from China, including Tibet, for tiger and leopard body parts. This changed in 2010 due to better enforcement and Chinese demand for African wildlife. The result: African wildlife populations plummeted, experts say.
In the 1990s, I was part of the Indian government’s Tiger Crisis Cell, and in 2005, after the tigers in the reserve forests of Sariska (Rajasthan) and Panna (Madhya Pradesh) disappeared, I was included in the Prime Minister’s Tiger Task Force.
As part of the task force, I witnessed the terrible impact of wildlife trade up close. From 1990 to 2010, the demands of the Chinese markets accounted for the deaths of more than 500 tigers and at least 1,000 leopards.
In these two decades, endless international research was conducted on China’s wildlife markets and reports submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. But few had the guts to act against China’s wildlife markets, and the nation also halted actions against it. But a small group of wildlife protectors struck, revealing the live trade in bats, civets, snakes, pangolins, porcupines, and even tigers and bears. Most fired these people and their investigations. The markets continued when the animals were cut and consumed; either as tiger’s penis soup or bone wines, and hundreds of animal parts were used as so-called medical cures. This use was justified since it was considered as a traditional medicine and a part of China’s traditional past, making it “acceptable”.
Even in 2002, when the Sars virus came, few heeded the warnings of the savages, despite the fact that this virus began with the consumption and destruction of horseshoe bats. Experts say the new coronavirus was born in the Wuhan wildlife market in China in late 2019. Since wildlife markets put humans close to living and dead animals, viruses that live only in animals mutate and they infect humans.
China’s illegal wildlife markets, which has flourished for decades, should not be allowed to function. The same applies to wildlife markets in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Their ban has come too late. The damage is already done.
The Wuhan coronavirus missile in China has spread worldwide. It has resulted in great human suffering and death. Economies stagnate and losses could reach trillions of dollars unless a vaccine is developed soon. The planet is in chaos and fear: 300 million children do not go to school, planes have landed and travel has been suspended in many places. With the people staying inside and the economic turmoil looking us in the face, the fear is now very real.
The world must decide to fix the responsibility for this crisis. I only know that the wildlife warrior must be greeted by his endless warnings. Throughout the world, ignorant and callous politicians and bureaucrats must learn and be responsible for their inactions. Many have congratulated China on the way it contained the coronavirus, but the world has conveniently forgotten about the huge wildlife markets that flourished despite repeated warnings for two decades, and never closed.
What can India learn from this episode?
Don’t take shortcuts that deplete wildlife habitats and their inhabitants. Superstructure development cannot be at the expense of wildlife or natural landscapes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the National Wildlife Board. It hasn’t been done in years. The prime minister must now convene a meeting to discuss wildlife and its protection, and not just to clear projects. Our business leaders must understand that saving wildlife is not an elitist activity. We need corporate responsibility for wildlife. Protecting the natural world must be a national priority.
We cannot afford another coronavirus episode. As I write this, over 125countries are infected with the virus with more than 1250,000 peopleinfected and more than 5,000 dead. The numbers are increasing and could be much higher. Heed this warning and don’t destroy the natural world. If we do, we will pay a very high price.
Valmik Thapar has worked for 43 years with wild tigers. He has also written 30 books on tigers and wildlife in India.
The opinions expressed are personal.