Trade-in wildlife is a driving force of the biodiversity crisis. Unregulated or unregulated trade in wildlife can lead to unsustainable exploitation of wildlife populations. International efforts to regulate wildlife mostly lack ‘lower value’ species, such as those imported as pets, resulting in limited trade knowledge in groups such as reptiles. They find that more than 35 percent of reptile species are traded online. Three-quarters of this trade is for species not covered by international trade regulations. These species include several endangered or restricted species, particularly hotspots within Asia. Approximately 90 percent of traded reptile species and half of the traded individuals are caught in the wild. Exploitation can occur immediately after scientific description, leaving new endemic species particularly vulnerable (1).
Pronounced regulatory gaps mean that trade has unfamiliar impacts on many endangered species. Monitoring gaps call for a reconsideration of international reptile trade regulations. Unsustainable human activity drives a sixth mass extinction, an ever-increasing biodiversity crisis driven by habitat loss, pollution, invasive organisms, climate change, and wildlife trade. Although awareness of the scale of biodiversity loss is growing, wildlife trade assessment remains incomplete, despite reports that direct wildlife exploitation is the second most damaging human activity to global biodiversity. Thousands of bird and fish species are potentially at risk for the pet trade due to the disconnect between trade regulations and source population health. Without global assessments, we cannot be confident of similar claims for reptiles, despite their popularity as pets and their vulnerability to increased demand for novel species.
Of the 10,272 wildlife species officially accepted, more than 8percent are regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the European Wildlife Trade Regulations. However, the IUCN Red List assessed 45 percent of the world’s reptile species and determined that at least 1390 species are at risk of biological resource use. Of these, 360 species are targeted with intention by collectors, including 194 non-CITES species. Here we review the global trade in pet reptiles, their impacts, and their contribution to the over-harvesting of species and populations (2).
Presence of legality in India
Trade-in wildlife is any sale or exchange of wild animal and plant resources by humans. It may be in live animals or parts thereof, products or derivatives, including plant extracts and parts of animals used in medicinal products, tourist curiosities, skin, wood, fish, or other food products. Live animals are only a small part of the trade. Wildlife trade can be at the local village level, regional retail and wholesale level, or an international import and export level. Trade-in wildlife is a serious conservation issue because it hurts many wildlife populations’ viability and is a major threat to vertebrate species’ survival. Today, wildlife crime is one of the most profitable illicit trades in the world. Wildlife traders are the most influential group of wildlife offenders and operate in a highly organized manner. Networks of such organized wildlife criminals have a global presence and make maximum commercial gains from such crimes.
For years, the illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a form of Organized Transnational Crime that has threatened many wild species worldwide. In India, it includes a variety of products, including mongoose hair; snake skins; Rhino horn; Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers; Elephant tusks; deer antlers; shahtoosh shawls; turtle shells; musk pods; bear bile; medicinal plants; wood and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias, etc. A large part of this trade is intended for the international market, and there is no direct demand in India. India has a strong legal and policy regulating framework to restrict wildlife trade. Trade-in more than 1,800 species of wild animals, plants, and their derivatives is prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (3).
India has also been a CITES member (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) (4) since 1976. CITES is an international consensus among government bodies to guarantee that global trade specimens of flora and fauna do not endanger survival. CITES works by subjecting certain controls to international trade in specimens of selected species listed in the Appendices. In India and many other countries, the problem is not the law, but it can be poorly communicated, implemented, and enforced. Positive efforts to address wildlife trade concerns are often undermined by a lack of political will and lack of governance.
Knowledge and action are urgently sought to carry legal trade in wildlife to a sustainable rate and stop all illegal trafficking in wildlife that has threatened and even pressed many species to extinction, toward the TRAFFIC (5), a network for the monitoring of wildlife trade and a joint program between WWF, the World Conservation Organization and IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, established in 1976, works closely with national and state governments and various agencies to help study, monitor and influence actions to curb illegal wildlife trade and bring wildlife trade within sustain.
In many cases, the illegal wildlife trade has led to over-exploitation of the target species to the point where these species’ very survival is becoming more difficult. This component is well documented in the case of Gorillas, Antelopes, Elephants, Star Tortoises, and many others. Populations of many fresh and marine species such as otters, freshwater turtles, corals, sharks, tuna, and other sea fish have also been affected by trade over-harvesting. Furthermore, the illegal wildlife trade indirectly threatens the livelihoods of a large part of our human population who depend on wildlife products from forests and coastal biomes to sustain them. These people depend not only on wildlife resources for food but also on their livelihoods and health care. Thus it is important that all these wildlife resources are being utilized responsibly and preserved according to the requirements.
The Animal skin market in India
Buying leather directly underpins the anguish of the slaughterhouse. According to statistics from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Council for Leather Exports, the value of leather exports from India, one of the world’s largest leather manufacturers, is ten times higher than its meat exports. Therefore, it is clear that cows and other cattle are suffering and cruelly slaughtered so that the leather industry can benefit from one’s skins. Believe it or not, India’s dairy cattle treatment is one of the cruelest in the world. Because it is immoral to shoot healthy young livestock in India, they are often purposefully wounded.
While most leather products are made from cattle and calves’ skins, leather is also made from horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs slaughtered for meat. Many of these animals are affected by the horrors of severe crowding, unpredictable castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning. Other species, including zebras, bison, bears, deer, kangaroos, elephants, angels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes, are hunted and killed for their skins. Rats, cats, and feral dogs are also murdered for their skins; however, since people are typically hesitant to purchase products made from all these animals, their skins are often classified simply as leather. A lot of it comes from wild animals, such as crocodiles, made from endangered, illegally poached animals (6).
At the Deonar slaughterhouse in Mumbai, sheep, goats, and cattle arrive in overcrowded and bone-cracking conditions and suffer, spread across the grounds, with their wounds untreated, until they are bought for slaughter or until they die. In 2014, India provided approximately 51 million bovine hide and 128 million sheep, lamb, and goatskin pieces. Approximately 80 percent of these local raw materials are used to produce approximately 2 billion square feet of leather per year on average. India’s fauna population supports this growing industry; however, some animal populations have decreased over the last few years. According to the 2012 Livestock Census, published by the Government of India, the cattle population decreased by 4 percent to 19 million between 2007 and 2012, while the water buffalo population increased by 3 percent to 108 million (7).
Tanneries produce raw hides from slaughterhouses or intermediaries who purchase pieces from local butchers or weekly markets. Major challenges faced by small and medium-sized tanneries include unskilled labor, outdated technology, and environmental pollution. Large tanneries subdued foreign brands often have modern equipment and can comply with better quality standards. Poor animal husbandry practices have lowered the quality of domestically produced hides and skins; furthermore, unskilled labor can cause defects such as cuts, markings, scars, and scratches. According to industry sources, Indian cowhides are approximately 25 to 28 square feet, while buffalo hides are approximately 45 square feet.
The local leather industry manufactures footwear, clothing, saddles and harnesses, gloves, handbags, travel bags, briefcases, wallets, belts, sports goods, footwear, and general upholstery. There is also a rise in the want for luxury furniture and automotive upholstery. The local footwear industry is the largest purchaser of leather and produces around 909 million leather shoes per year. According to industry reports, Indian consumers purchase an average of 1.7 pairs of shoes per year, which is low compared to the global average of three pairs per year. The clothing sector is the second-largest purchaser, producing approximately 16 million (8).
Cases of Animal hide sales
Multi-million dollar underground trade thrives fast along the bio-diversity-rich Indo-Bhutan border region, with the locality as the source of the traded item. And the item is Tokay Gecko, a specific variety of Lizards, available in a good number in the region with a million-dollar price tag in the underground world. According to the intelligence agency, a piece of this lizard weighs about 300g and could have a price ranging from 2 million to even 20 million dollars. As an indicator of this translucent trade, Bhutan foresters have apprehended about 20 people trying to trade lizards last year (9).
At the beginning of 2016, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that they had acquired a single share in the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. While a single share seems almost meaningless, it doesn’t. That small shareholding gives PETA access to the shareholders’ meeting of LVMH, which the group has already taken part to further pressure the conglomerate the parent of Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, Celine, Loewe, and Marc Jacobs, among other brands, to stop using alligator and crocodile skins to make its products (1).