The Union environment ministry plans to celebrate World Wildlife Day on March 3 by destroying ill-gotten trophies of poachers including hides, scales, horns and tusks. The items will be burned in the incinerator at Delhi Zoo in the presence of environment minister of state Anil Madhav Dave.
State chief wildlife wardens have been invited by the environment ministry to contribute to the stock being burnt. Some of the confiscated items will come from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.
The Delhi Zoo was also the site of the last such destruction devised by the ministry. In 2014, at least four truckloads of confiscated items were destroyed and the incineration lasted for four days, according to Riyaz Khan, the curator at the Delhi Zoo. On that occasion, a stockpile worth Rs 20 lakh was destroyed.
World Wildlife Day is celebrated on March 3 to mark the signing of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Under CITES there are bans in place on the trade of ivory and rhino horns.
Destruction by incinerator, open burning of stockpiles or crushing of tusks and horns are all done to deter poachers. Kenya burnt down the largest stock of ivory last year in April weighing about 105 tonnes.
The ministry is not revealing how much stock will be incinerated because all state governments have not responded yet.
Supporters believe incineration stifles the market for these goods by curbing supply. Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, said that destroying the confiscated stash is important because storing it comes with risks. “There is a possibility that the ivory gets out because of the connivance of officials,” Niraj said, “the price of these goods is always rising, the stockpiled items are at risk.”
“In some of the raids conducted by the bureau the items confiscated were already marked,” Niraj said suggesting that they had been leaked back into the market.
Safeguarding confiscated goods also requires resources, both infrastructure and manpower.
Other conservationists support this move but believe more needs to be done. “The demand side is equally important, the markets have to be closed,” Varun Goswami, a conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said. Demand for these wildlife products is high in countries like China and Japan because they are believed to have medicinal value.
In December last year, the Chinese government committed to stamp out the market for poached animal parts in the country by end of 2017. It was hailed as a big step towards making the trade in these items unattractive.
However, some countries in Africa like South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe have pushed for legal sales of the stocks of confiscated items and investing some of the proceeds in conservation efforts. Goswami believes that legalising ivory sales is no way to curb poaching as it keeps demand alive.
More than 1200 animals were killed by poachers in India between 2013 and 2016, as per government data.
In 2014 items that are ostentatiously luxurious were destroyed at the Delhi Zoo incinerator. India faces a somewhat peculiar problem. Some of the items may not just be high monetary value in the black market but hold sacred value like ivory idols.
The less glamorous option of incineration may be a safe choice for the government since burning stockpiles in the open like Kenya has done might invite protests and could also aggravate Delhi’s high pollution.