Wildlife authorities today torched a huge pile of banned wildlife furs and skins as part of the government’s effort to stop an illegal trade that threatens to wipe out many of India’s most endangered species.
Under the orders of the High Court, 8 truckloads of stockpiled pelts were burned by state officials in a public display of destruction, in the northern Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Incinerated items included skins, rugs, fur coats and gloves made from dozens of tiger, snow leopard, leopard, hill fox, leopard cats, black bear, otters and wolves. All species are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act 1978 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The huge stock, estimated to be worth several million US dollars, came from more than 125,000 articles surrendered by furriers from the Kashmir Valley region. The fur traders were forced to give up their illegal stash by the court, which will oversee a compensation scheme for the animal skins worth almost $2,500,000 USD.
Ashok Kumar, trustee of the Wildlife Trust of India, lit the pyre. He said: “This is a hugely significant moment. Going up in flames was the largest single agglomeration 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.
“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.”
Chief Wildlife Warden for Jammu & Kashmir, A. K. Srivastava, said: “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.”
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.
The first truckload of illegal skins was burnt in Srinagar in October. Today’s burning begins to destroy the remainder of the 127,326 items held in storage by the Forest Department. The total tally includes: tiger (45 skins, 44 heads and 14 manufactured items), snow leopard (104 skins, 1 head and 25 items), black bear (120 skins and 5 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.
Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, witnessed the burning and 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.”