Some say that the north Bengal town has always been a transit point; others say it is a recent development; but all agree on the need to be vigilant
Is Jalpaiguri in north Bengal becoming a new transit point for the trafficking of native and even exotic wildlife? Experts agree that the town and district are very important for such a trade, after the discovery of kangaroos abandoned on a road in the area shone a spotlight on the matter.
Experts say geography is the primary reason behind this. The borders of three of India’s neighbours — Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh lie close to the city and district as these are located near the strategic ‘Chicken’s Neck’ corridor. Myanmar and China are also not too far away.
SP Pandey, a local activist from the organisation SPOAR (Society for Protecting Ophiofauna and Animal Rights), told this reporter that Jalpaiguri and its vicinity have become a favourite with those who are involved in illegal wildlife trafficking.
This is because surveillance on other routes has increased.
“Three years ago, I was representing India at a tri-country meet with representatives of Nepal and Bhutan. It emerged there that trafficked wildlife had been coming from various places to this transit point and were then being sent to various other locations,” Pandey said.
Environment activist Soumitra Ghosh, however, said the Jalpaiguri route being used to traffic wildlife was nothing new.
“Maybe local poaching has declined but the intensity of the trade remains the same due to the demand in major markets. Procurement of wildlife and their trafficking is happening widely. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The route is important,” he said.
The Jalpaiguri route was being used to traffic wildlife mainly to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and via Bangladesh, to Persian Gulf countries, according to Ghosh.
Native to exotic
North Bengal and North East India are rich in several species native to the region. However, what shocked many recently was the discovery of an Australian species like the kangaroo being found in Jalpaiguri.
Three dead kangaroos were discovered first in Siliguri. This was followed by four kangaroos being rescued alive, among which one died. The animals had been treated badly and were extremely weak.
Lal Sing Bhujel, one of the conveners of the Uttarbanga Banjan Shramajeebee Mancha (UBSM) or North Bengal Forest Workers Association, said it was undoubtedly surprising to find kangaroos in north Bengal.
The traffickers had, in all probability, seen police barricades or personnel carrying out checks and had abandoned the animals on the road out of fear.
Bhujel, on being asked about the route, said: “Some sources say that kangaroos are being bred in Sri Lanka and are being sent to different places, especially China. The route being taken is either via Sikkim or via Phuentsholing in Bhutan to China. Jalpaiguri has thus become a transit point.”
He added: “We get reports of poaching of native wildlife such as rhinoceros. But this is new. Now, we are getting reports of wildlife being found here which are trafficked from other places.”
What can be done?
Pandey said the kingpins were mostly from outside while some were from India, but the middlemen were local people.
“It is difficult to reach the masterminds or the head of the gangs because the local middlemen who get arrested do not know them at all and work in exchange of money from others.
“These middlemen come from poverty-stricken families but the attraction for easy money is another big issue as districts like Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri are hubs of modern merchandise sold in half the price,” Pandey said.
However, most people this reporter spoke to for this story agree that the authorities as well as people in the area had been very alert about the trafficking incidents.
Bhujel credited forest dwellers of having become more aware in conserving wildlife in the recent past.
“Those living in forest villages in districts such as Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri believe the forests and wildlife are their friends. So they take it upon themselves to save the forests. Hence, poaching and trafficking activities have come down,” he said.
Sundar Sing Rava, another convener of UBSM, echoed Bhujel. “A decade back, there used to be one or more such incidents every one or two years. But for the last few years, the number of such crimes has become very less and wildlife is safe in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts.”
Pandey sounded positive about the response from the forest department.
“It was not that active. But now, not only the forest department, but also the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) is very active in the area since the last couple of years. A special officer has been appointed, who is based in Siliguri to check crime,” he said.
Pandey added that the WCCB had taken initiatives to organise regular workshops with other stakeholders like the Border Security Force, Customs, the Sashastra Seema Bal, the forest department and the police to maintain awareness.
“Other than living animals, body parts such as fur, skin, stuffed heads, teeth and bone are also trafficked. Earlier, it was tough to identify the animal to which such body parts belonged. Due to such workshops, the stakeholders have become more alert and so, such crimes are now can be discovered more easily,” Pandey said.
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