Chennai International Airport tops the list, followed by Mumbai and Delhi airports. Seizures included flora and fauna, native and exotic, protected under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
The report titled “High Flying: Overview of Wildlife Trafficking through Indian Airports” states that among the common native species seized at Indian airports between 2011 and 2020 were Indian star tortoise, leopard cubs, red-eared tortoise , iguana, python, spider, marmoset, tamarin monkey, tricolor squirrel and exotic birds. These were discovered in checked baggage and hand luggage. Floral species like agarwood, red sanders, sandalwood and medicinal and aromatic plants like Kuth saussurea costus were also seized.
WCCB officials explained that the airports pose low risks to those involved in the illegal wildlife trade due to “shorter travel time and extended range”. Strict surveillance at airports also detects more traffic than at other transport hubs. Tilotama Varma, WCCB Additional Director, said: “Smugglers smuggle wildlife and their derivatives through checked and personal baggage, concealing the contraband in the clothes, shoes and other wearables of the passengers and misdeclaring protected species, which makes detection tedious for law enforcement agencies. The resources newly developed under the project will prove useful in filling these gaps.
The data in the report came from open sources and the actual number of species smuggled out could not be tracked. A TRAFFIC official said: “These are the minimum numbers reported. Actual traffic would be higher. Items apprehended also included pangolin scales, leopard and tiger skins, monitor lizard skin bags and Tibetan antelope shawls. The list is quite long. »
TRAFFIC, with the assistance of the United Nations Environment Program and the Bureau of Wildlife Crime Control (WCCB), has developed a program for Customs and the Central Industrial Security Force deployed at airports to detect wildlife trafficking. “TRAFFIC’s study of wildlife seizures at Indian airports has reaffirmed the need to strengthen efforts to combat the exploitation of the aviation sector for the illegal wildlife trade,” noted Dr Saket Badola , head (India) of TRAFFIC.
Officials said to minimize violations of the Wildlife Protection Act, it was important to educate front-line staff at airports. Tools developed for this purpose include two online courses on combating wildlife smuggling. These inform law enforcement officials of relevant laws and regulations, show how traffickers operate at airports, and provide a checklist for day-to-day operations. There are also posters and displays offering vital information on commonly trafficked wildlife species.
“The new awareness raising and capacity building tools developed for use in the air transport sector were launched at a recent event held at the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics, Faridabad. program aims to build the capacity of frontline Customs and CISF staff,” said a TRAFFIC official.