India

In Arunachal Pradesh, a tiger skin is worth 5 kg of rice

Source: NDTV | Mid-Day.com, Wednesday April 21, 2010, Itanagar

Investigations have revealed that the need for a packet of salt and a small bag of rice can fuel the killing of a tiger in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China.

Locals say the lack of infrastructure in the state leads to scarcity of food, forcing poverty-hit tribals to target wildlife and sell illegal animal products.

“With little food to eat, villagers depend on tree barks to make ‘tussey’, an indigenous porridge,” said Tagru Tame of Pipsorang village in Kurung Kumey district. “Even money cannot buy anything in the region. So, the easiest option is to seek help from the Chinese, who look for animal products to fuel Asian markets.”

“Hundreds of endangered animals are killed in the thick jungles just to eke out a living,” said Noory Noshi of Limeking village located 50 km from the International Line of Control. “Poverty-stricken tribals sell the animal skin to Chinese traders. In exchange, they get about 5 kg of rice and a kilo of salt.”

In the absence of patrolling, the age-old trade route is now being used for trafficking of wildlife products. Noshi pointed out that this route is also the entry point for illegal immigrants who slip into Arunachal Pradesh.

“At the border, a pack of salt and a pack of rice cost around Rs 200 a kilo each and a packet of noodles costs Rs 300. There are no roads, communication facilities are lacking. So, in the absence of infrastructure, food is scarce,” said Rajesh Tacho, a local MLA. “While the Chinese highway is barely 3 km from the line of control, mountain paths on the Indian side extend for up to 50 km, mostly through the inaccessible jungles,” said Tacho.

Investigations revealed that most of the animals killed are smuggled through Chinese villages Oganjo, Ume, Dian and Asapila.

The middlemen, who supply the contraband to markets in south east Asia, are of Tibetan origin.

Most of the banned wildlife products are smuggled in haversacks or home-made cane bags. Sometimes, high altitude porters hired by local authorities are involved in the smuggling syndicate, insiders said. At times, Indian traffickers pose as informers and sneak into Chinese villages under the pretext of gathering information.

The Indian authorities prefer to look the other way, a matter on which Arunachal Pradesh’s Director General of Police, Bimla Mehra, declined comment.

Tracking and killing the prey usually takes days of hard work. It involves trudging and trekking through the dense forest which is infested with poisonous snakes and insects.

Arunachal’s Deputy Conservator of Forests, M K Palit, admitting that killing of wildlife was rampant in the state’s forests. He attributed it mainly to the age-old tribal traditions and excessive issue of licensed weapons to villagers.

Palit pointed to the emerging role of traffickers in smuggling animal products outside the country in recent months. “Earlier, it was killing for food, but now it is also to make quick money, added Palit. “The situation is not very alarming and the government is doing its best,” said the forest officer.