Tiger Poaching In India
Roughly half of the estimated 3,200-4,000 wild tigers in the world live in India. Tiger populations have significantly diminished over the past century for reasons such as habitat degradation, loss of prey, and wildlife crime. A ban on the trade of tiger parts in India has been implemented with varying levels of enforcement since 1968, but despite the ban, consumer demands for tiger parts in Asia, Europe, and the US have persisted, with tiger skins being a sought-after luxury item. Poaching and trafficking remain key reasons why many tiger populations are continuing to decline in India despite high reproduction rates and conservation initiatives.
However, the amount of wildlife crime that is reported in India may not correlate with the amount of wildlife crime that is actually occurring. The authors point out that increased or decreased wildlife detection could be a result of better or worse law enforcement and investigation. Using advanced mathematical models and 40 years of population and crime data (1972-2012), the authors estimated the likelihood of wildlife poaching in 605 districts in India in 3-7 year increments.
In 1972, the year the Wild Life (Protection) Act was passed and nine tiger habitats were established, demand for tiger parts declined and interest in tiger protection increased. Tiger populations improved slightly throughout 1972 to 1987. Incidences of tiger crime were rare during this time, prompting the authors to call this era “the golden years for wild tigers in India”. Likelihood of wildlife crime increased in the late 1980s and 1990s due to demand for tiger bones in China. Following a major seizure of 298 kg of tiger bones in August 1993, enforcement efforts increased. The authors’ analysis reflects a high likelihood of wildlife crime detection between 1993 and 1997.
Wildlife crime detection rates declined in 1997. Organized crime was already underway by December 1999, when three tanned, folded, and signed tiger skins were seized in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Demand for tiger skins as a display of wealth in Tibet in the early 2000s led to a massive seizure of 31 tiger skins, along with other animal hides, occurred in Sangsang in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2003. Unsurprisingly, the likelihood of wildlife crime detection in India was lowest between 2001 and 2003. Detection rates improved slightly after 2005, when tigers were reported to have gone extinct in Sariska Tiger Reserve.
The authors’ analysis confirmed that tiger trade hubs are more likely to occur near tiger preserves. However, 17 trade hubs were identified as having a high likelihood of tiger crime despite not being located near tiger habitats. This is perhaps due to local officers’ inability to detect and prevent wildlife crime from occurring through an organized network. Furthermore, wildlife trade hubs located along rail routes were less likely to dissolve than trade hubs located near highways, also perhaps because there is less presence of law enforcement along railroads.
In conflict with other data that suggests an overall increase in wildlife crime due to the number of seizures, this analysis showed a less-direct pattern of increased poaching in some areas and decreased poaching in others. This finding suggests that analyzing wildlife crime using the probability of occurrence and detection may be useful in identifying potential hotspots as opposed to relying on the number of seizures alone.