Routes for smuggling wildlife across countries used to traffic weapons, drugs: Report

The report said DRI plays a pivotal role in tackling environmental crimes across international borders and that Customs formations across India have also made some significant seizures.

Published: 11th December 2022 05:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th December 2022 07:43 PM   |  A+A-


Image used for representational purpose (Photo | AP)


NEW DELHI: The routes used to smuggle wildlife across countries and continents are often the same routes used to traffic weapons, drugs and people, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) said in an annual report.

The porous international borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, China and other Southeast Asian countries and a growing aviation market make the fight against the illegal wildlife trade increasingly difficult in India, said the report which was released by Union Finance Minister Sitharaman on Monday, December 5.

Among others, the report also said the anonymity offered by the internet and social media and the emergence of the dark net and cryptocurrency has led to an increase in this illegal trade. While the air route is used for trafficking wild fauna, the land and sea borders of the country are majorly used for the smuggling of flora.

A dark net or darknet is an overlay network within the internet that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorisation, and often uses a unique customised communication protocol.

The report said DRI plays a pivotal role in tackling environmental crimes across international borders and that Customs formations across India have also made some significant seizures.

It said during 2021-22 the seizures include 4,762 numbers of Indian star tortoises and 145 MT (in 25 cases) of red sanders seized while being attempted for export. Similarly, 77 numbers of exotic birds were seized while being imported into the country.

Some of the most smuggled wildlife goods are red sanders, ambergris, reptiles, exotic species, seahorses and elephant tusks, among others.

Red Sanders

In India, red sanders grow in southern tropical dry deciduous forests mainly in the Palakonda and Sheshachalam hill ranges of Cuddappah-Chittoor districts of Andhra Pradesh, the DRI annual report said. It is also found in the Anantapur, Kurnool, Prakasam and Nellore districts of Andhra and grows sporadically in the wilds of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassified the conservation status of red sanders from 'endangered' to 'near threatened' and is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES).

The number of seizures across the country and abroad shows that red sanders continue to be smuggled out of India in large quantities, DRI said in the report.

It has been found to be primarily smuggled through Nhava Sheva, Mundra and Chennai ports and in some cases the shipping bills are filed at SEZ, according to the report. The containers concealed with red sanders are shipped first to transit countries like Dubai, Malaysia and South Korea and from there to the actual destination to avoid detection.

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The modus of replacement of declared goods with red sanders en route to the port for export is a common occurrence. In 2021-2022, DRI seized a total of 161.83 million tonnes of red sanders valued at Rs 97 crore, attempting to be smuggled out of India in various operations spread across India.


Ambergris is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales and is grey to blackish in colour. It is found usually on the sea coasts of Maldives, China, Japan, India, South Africa, Brazil, Madagascar, Australia, and New Zealand, according to the DRI report. Ambrein extracted from Ambergris is used to increase the fragrance of perfumes.

In India, both the sale and possession of ambergris are illegal under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. DRI report said the period 2021-22 witnessed a spate of seizures of ambergris both by the central and state law enforcement agencies.

Reptiles, other exotic species

Reptiles are one of the extensively traded groups of vertebrates in the exotic pet trade. Approximately, 8 per cent of the reptile species traded in the world are regulated by CITES. The DRI report said the most-trafficked tortoise species in the global illegal pet trade is the Indian star tortoise which is a species native to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. These star tortoises are collected from India in large quantities and smuggled into Southeast and East Asian countries.

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Seahorses play an indispensable ecological role in the marine food chain and therefore decrease in their population destabilises the ecological balance of the marine ecosystem, the report said.

It is estimated that 150 million seahorses are used for the preparation of traditional Chinese medicine every year. Sea horses are covered under Appendix II of CITES and Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and therefore prohibited for export from India.

Elephant tusks

The DRI report said the demand for elephant tusks is due to scarcity and the cultural status it attracts. CITES prohibits commercial international trade in ivory of both Asian and African Elephants. In India, trading in elephant tusks is prohibited under Schedule I of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.

India has brought about many reforms focusing on the greater easement of movement for passengers and cargo across its borders, according to the report. Both the passenger traffic and cargo have been showing an upward trend in volume.

The report said targeted risk intervention strategies combined with traditional methods like the use of sniffer dogs at ports and airports to detect smuggling of wildlife articles are helpful.

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Another trend noted has been the emergence of new markets in wildlife trade to electronic platforms like -- social messaging and dark net sites -- this involves transactions in money through the use of cryptocurrency assets and at the same time allows both the buyer and seller of such illicit goods to remain anonymous and difficult to track.


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