Through darknet channels, wildlife trafficking in India is increasingly running under the radar of police.
For any internet tier, enforcement is tough and regulation scarce.
The business remains to be swift, and its platforms are many whereas traders are anonymous.
Their reach is vast while the returns of the same are significantly invaluable.
The industry goes deep into the dark web, smuggling species through Tor-based markets.
India Law Enforcement Tackles Growing Illicit Market
To thoroughly understand the situation, there has been a new unit planned by India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) that operates under the Ministry Union of Forests and Environment.
The bureau by itself was originally constituted over last 10 years through amending the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act to curb illegal wildlife trading organized within the country.
The organization collects intelligence regarding wildlife crimes and then shares it with law enforcement groups and states both at home and abroad to help them in controlling crime against wildlife within the country in a coordinated fashion.
For the WCCB particularly, the largest form of the challenge lies currently in tackling illegal trade specifically on the dark web.
According to WCCB’s senior officer, there is evidence of the culprits utilizing the dark web in a wider scale to sell the illegal products of wildlife from species that are critically endangered such as elephant ivory, rhino horns as well as other products.
Smugglers, however, those of whom use applications like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are hard to capture.
They are close knit groups, and it is difficult to gather information concerning them.
Investigators have had no other choice but to improve their game by developing a darknet-targeted taskforce which was set up about two years ago.
It has been successful in monitoring illicit animal exchange, and it has detected more than 200 cases since it was started.
Cutting in Through the Code
The bureau has different curious tales that they can tell about the trends among the online trafficking groups.
For instance, “Chocolate and Trophy” were particularly trending and it did not take a lot of time for the investigators to discover that the former is in reference to a boa constrictor that has a dark brown color. The latter, however, is the Bengal tiger skin.
Poachers are using an extensive type of trade glossary which is composed mostly of coded terms in the Indian language which they constantly revise to escape any form of detection by major law enforcement agencies operating internationally such as Interpol, which is made up of over 190 member countries across the world.
The databases used by the poachers are expansive, due to the wide range of wildlife traded.
Endangered species are being smuggled towards Vietnam, Thailand, China, Malaysia and other nations in the southeast regions of Asia.
China is the place where the tokay geckos and pangolins are in demand particularly for medicinal purposes.
The nation is the biggest purchaser of endangered animals. However, since 2016, the WCCB collaborating with the Revenue Intelligence Directorate has had the ability to arrest criminals for trafficking wildlife.
The traffickers are utilizing the particular travel channels where it is easiest for them to avoid being captured.
The railway running through Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Tibet is the most popular of them all.
Wildlife Crime Control Bureau Fighting Back
India’s WCCB has strategized missions in turn to eliminate the rings of smugglers.
Two specific campaigns are standing out in that they have been most successful in closing in on the poachers.
Operation Wild Net is one of them. The operation, conducted in May 2017, took up to one month to complete.
It led to the detection of 37 different incidents of poaching. After that bust, seven more cases got registered under the wildlife protection laws.
Another law enforcement bust, Operation Lesknow, was launched two weeks later, and this time the mission was much more complicated.
The WCCB aimed at checking the illegal exchange of animal species that are less popular, while also busting the rackets in the international poaching business through roping in investigative law enforcement agencies globally, including Interpol.
The Way Forward
For all mentioned challenges and threats that need to be tackled, the WCCB is not in shape. Its own headquarters in New Delhi is shorthanded and cash-strapped.
The unit requires attention from the federal government, particularly when it comes to funding if it is to be well-staffed. Conservationists are concerned by the state of the bureau.
It will need to be allocated a larger budget in order to hire experts, plan its projected activities and function efficiently so as to meet the digital challenges that are always evolving.