Of Course, India Pays
April 2007: "We know how to deal with people like you.”
This not-so-veiled threat was issued by antler horn traders in Maharashtra who accused me of being an ‘extremist’ because I was fighting for a ban on deer-antler exports. “We only use antlers that deer drop naturally once a year,” they spat angrily.
But, raid after raid conducted near Nagpur, threw up bloody antlers with large skull fragments attached. Deer were being trapped, poisoned and shot to supply antlers to knife-handle and button manufacturers in the USA, Japan and Europe. And when deer die, leopards and tigers turn their attention to domestic livestock… and conflicts ensue.
Then predators are killed.
As it turned out, the ban was put in place. And, for a while, we imagined the prey base of carnivores might be relatively safe.
The ‘collection’ of antlers continued. Traders just kept stocking the contraband while smuggling out small lots to meet ‘export obligations’. Meanwhile, Ministers in the Central Cabinet were lobbied to have the ban lifted. When we prevented this, the traders took another route. They worked to suggest loopholes in the rules.
This time they succeeded. With the help of pliable ‘experts’ who certified that no harm would come to wildlife from the export of antlers, India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued Notification No. 50 (RE-2005)/2004-2009, dated March 9, 2006 allowing the export of antlers and shavings sourced from chital and sambar deer.
All in the public interest.
A spate of deer deaths predictably followed and biologists confirm that a drop in herbivore numbers – poached for many reasons – has led to a drop in tiger numbers.
No one even mentioned the porcupines.
The ancestors of Indian (or crested) porcupines Hystrix indica, have been gnawing away at dropped antlers in Indian jungles for millions of years. The rodents use the calcium locked in antlers to replace lost quills and teeth. It’s nature’s complex way of recycling everything. Bureaucrats, who unerringly tie themselves in knots to help businessmen, hate such inconvenient links thrown at them. So they routinely search and find ‘experts’ to interpret laws to craft legal fig leaves behind which commercial or political ambitions can be hidden.
Of course, India pays… in deer, tigers and porcupines.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVII No. 2, April 2007