‘Internet, apps biggest challenge in tiger conservation efforts’

Conservation efforts are on across the world to save tigers, but these big cats are facing unprecedented threats from exponential spurt in Internet users and encrypted messaging services available on mobile phones, TRAFFIC – the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network’s India head, Saket Badola said on Thursday.

Participating in a virtual interaction, organised by the Mysore Zoo (Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Garden) as part of International Tiger’s Day programmes, Badola said that though India has come long way from advertising tiger hunting expeditions in newspapers across Western countries in early 1970s to becoming global leader in tiger conservation in 2021, but the threat still looms large for the country’s wildlife, with illegal trade scenario shifting from brick and mortar shops to Internet.

“When I say the Internet, it’s not just websites alone that are responsible but wholly encrypted messaging apps and highly secured digital fund transfer apps that are posing the biggest threat to our flora and fauna. Besides this, there are occult practitioners within and outside India and traditional medical practitioners are also the biggest threat to wildlife, promoting illegal wildlife trafficking across the globe,” he said.

Badola said that India continues to be on top most countries of victim of illegal wildlife trading, with 2019’s skin and bone seizure global record revealing 403 tiger skins were recovered and 625 bones (claws, teeth) of these big cats were seized.

“Even for the sake of argument, we can always claim that due to the high number of tigers in our country, the number of seizures is corresponding to it, but it has happened largely due to illegal trade flourishing on the internet,” he contended.

Badola stated that encrypted messaging apps and highly secured money transfer apps are posing threats that governments are unable to track who the real culprit is. “Internet is giving a perfect shield to everyone involved, buyer and seller. Both of them can remain anonymous and fund transfer apps give freedom to transfer huge amounts of cash resulting in wildlife illegal trade thriving on the internet,” he said.

Apart from this, tiger farms in various countries where tigers were never found has also resulted in thriving global illegal wildlife trade across the globe.