December 5, 2007
Srinagar : Wildlife authorities in the Kashmir Valley have torched nearly eight truckloads of furs and skins of endangered animals, worth an estimated Rs.99 million ($2.5 million) in the international market, as part of its efforts to stop the illegal trade.
The huge stockpile, including 125,000 endangered animal items surrendered by traders in the Kashmir Valley, were publicly burnt by wildlife officials Monday. It is estimated to be the single largest collection of wildlife skins in the world.
The burning was part of the government’s effort to discourage the illegal trade in animal parts that threatens to wipe out many of India’s most endangered species.
The incinerated items included skins, rugs, fur coats and gloves made from dozens of tigers, snow leopards, leopards, hill fox, leopard cats, black bear, otters and wolves.
The consignment was collected over several months. The first truckload of illegal skins was burnt in Srinagar in October. Monday’s burning was to destroy the remainder of the 127,326 items held in storage by the forest department.
The total tally comprised: tiger (45 skins, 44 heads and 14 manufactured items), snow leopard (104 skins, one head and 25 items), black bear (120 skins and five mounted heads), leopard (422 skins, 115 heads and 435 items), jungle cat (33,235 skins and 6,255 items), one lion head and one Tibetan antelope skull.
All the species are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The fur traders were forced to give up the illegal items by the court, which will oversee a compensation scheme for the animal skins.
Chief Wildlife Warden of Jammu and Kashmir A.K. Srivastava told IANS: “We have waited many years for this moment. This historic event is taking place with the support of the local community, in an open and transparent manner, for the ultimate protection of our precious wildlife.”
Robbie Marsland, Britain’s director of the NGO International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who witnessed the burning, said: “Like Kenya’s burning of stockpiled ivory in 1989, I hope these flames send a strong message to consumers around the world that the trade in endangered species is illegal and totally unacceptable in today’s society.”
Ashok Kumar, trustee of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), lit the pyre. He said: “This is a hugely significant moment. Going up in flames was the largest single collection of wildlife skins anywhere in the world.”
“Compensation will be given to those furriers who willingly surrendered their stock. It is a small price to pay to protect endangered species from the decimation of poachers,” Kumar told IANS.
“The job of enforcement officials throughout the region will be much easier now as any new stocks that are found will be seized immediately and the trader brought to justice. Wild species have respite from the Kashmir fur trade, although at no time can we give up the battle,” he said.
Kashmir has historically been the centre of the wild animal skin trade, with specimens being brought into the Valley from all parts of India. This is demonstrated by the existence of the head of an Asiatic lion, which lives exclusively in the western state of Gujarat, in the stockpile, said Kumar.