We celebrated World Wildlife Day on March 3, 2022, under the theme “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”. The UN selects this theme to highlight the conservation status of some of the most critically endangered wild fauna and flora. But, when we look at the videos of the latest incident in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, we can find an unusual incident where a kangaroo was spotted wandering in this area for the first time. According to a few reports, these kangaroos were abandoned by wildlife traffickers due to the fear of arrest in West Bengal, a hotbed of wildlife smuggling. Wildlife experts say there are increasing incidents of this kind. Data from the State Forest and Police Authorities and the WCCB (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau) shows that during the past three years, i.e., 2018-2020, India has recorded about 2054 incidences of killing or illicit wildlife trafficking. In ancient times, animal sacrifices after every sacred ritual created unrest among the people because the large-scale destruction of cattle wealth was proving to be detrimental to the growth of agriculture. People in the 6th century BC even went against the Vedas to stop the atrocities happening to innocent animals. At present, we must also act immediately to protect wildlife, which is a vital component of the environment.
ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADING: ITS CAUSES AND IMPACT
Wildlife trading is a legal practice that is not forbidden in India. The term “wildlife trade” means the selling and buying of animal and plant resources that are necessary for human daily needs. On the other hand, the illegal wildlife trade is the illegal practice of selling by injuring or killing their body parts for personal gain. They are prohibited from being sold under the law. The growth of illegal wildlife trafficking can be linked to various causes. Among them, are a lack of enough harsh rules to deter them, illegal killing of a species in the name of harvesting, illegally sold goods offering a high price, which results in greed among poachers, diverse demand and usage, and an increase in sources like black markets and syndicates are major causes.
These days, it is evident that the wildlife trade has shifted from conventional physical markets to internet marketplaces, posing new issues. There is no conclusive proof that online commerce fell off during the pandemic. Online marketplaces that facilitate the trade of animals have thus become a significant new challenge. The impact of the illegal wildlife trade is many-fold. They are: species facing extinction; reduction in wildlife resources due to excessive use; can spread diseases and undermine the economy of the country.
INDIAN LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND GOVERNMENT CONDUCT TO PROTECT WILDLIFE
The obligation of protecting the environment, including wildlife, is laid down on both the enforcement agencies and the people of the nation. Article 48A of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), dictates that the state makes efforts to maintain the nation’s forests and wildlife, as well as to protect and improve the environment. According to Article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India, it is every citizen’s common responsibility to uphold their fundamental right to compassion for all living things as well as to safeguard and improve the natural environment, especially forests and wildlife. The Indian Parliament passed the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 for the protection and management of wildlife habitats. The Act also regulates the trade and commerce of wildlife resources. Any violation of the provisions in the Act results in punishment through imprisonment and fines. There are many other acts like The Indian Forest Act, The Forest Conservation Act, The Biological Diversity Act, and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act that safeguards the environment, including wildlife species. The principal organization responsible for upholding the protection of India’s wildlife is still the Forest Department. However, the Central Industrial Security Force, customs, and other law enforcement organizations all play a significant part in the fight against it.
With the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act, of 1972, India is the nation that has made the most progress in protecting wildlife. In the case of State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan, the Supreme Court of India explained the goals of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, stating that the long history of wildlife laws necessitates that the judiciary and parliament must safeguard wildlife. As ecological imbalances and environmental degradation have reached a tipping point, the judiciary is strongly inclined to take decisive action. It has also made several decisions to provide justice for animals and to recognize animal rights on par with human rights. Together, the legislative and the judiciary have laboured to safeguard species and have issued rulings that are worthy of the respect they merit. India’s environmental laws have advanced significantly over the years in a steady manner.
SUPREME COURT’S STAND ON WILDLIFE PROTECTION
In the Naveen Raheja v. Union of India (2000) case, the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court states that zoo administrators must safeguard the tiger. The Court also held that the treatment of innocent animals in a brutal manner is a punishable act under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. To prevent such incidents from happening in zoos or protected forests in the future, the court ordered the state to adhere to specific procedures. Once the defendant in Tilak Bahadur Rai v. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1979) shot the tiger to defend himself, it can be said that he was acting in self-defense, and as such, his actions were legal. The Supreme Court also made it clear that when an animal is hurt or killed in self-defense, the government acquires ownership of it rather than the person who caused the wild animal’s harm or death.
The illegal wildlife trading sector is expanding into a worldwide threat. This is a global issue, not just limited to India. This illegal wildlife trading hits hard on the entire world, even the most developed countries, which have better laws and punishments. The judiciary should be more active in making judgments and directing enforcing agencies for the effective prevention of illegal wildlife trading. To achieve complete non-functioning of these kinds of trade activities, it is needed to effectively implement mitigating steps. Some of them are that citizens should be more responsible by discouraging the possession of animal artifacts that are prohibited by the law, which leads to a reduction in demand. The government should provide technical and financial support to the concerned authorities by raising funds and also try to support and assist organizations like WWF that are committed to the safety of animals. Amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act to include exotic animals in need of protection; introducing a new law that criminalizes not only ownership but also possession of such animals or Intervention by the Supreme Court to fill in these loopholes until a new statute is enacted.
The need of the hour is to spread awareness amongst the masses, other sections of society, and the judiciary regarding animal rights and their safety. Through focused conservation awareness campaigns, the threat of illegal wildlife trading to our diaspora as well as the economy should be highlighted. There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy because the sources and drivers of trade are diverse, from basic subsistence in local communities to high-profit international business. This is not to say that India doesn’t have a strong legal and policy framework to restrict the illegal wildlife trade. It is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Yet the illegal wild animal trade takes place all over the country. In India, like many other countries, the problem is not the laws but that these may be poorly implemented and enforced. India, the world’s seventh-largest country, is home to four of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, making it one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. As a result, animal conservation and welfare in the country should be given paramount importance. We, as responsible citizens of India, should contribute to the prevention of these crimes and save the environment. And, it is important to keep in mind what Mahatma Gandhi said. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Author(s) Name: Pujari Dharani (Osmania University, Hyderabad)
 ‘World Wildlife Day’ (United Nations), <https://www.un.org/en/observances/world-wildlife-day#:~:text=World%20Wildlife%20Day%20will%20be,imagining%20and%20implementing%20solutions%20to> accessed 1 August 2022
Ritu Singh, ‘Kangaroos Spotted Wandering The Streets of West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri, Probe Ordered | Watch’ (india.com, 4 April 2022), <https://www.india.com/viral/viral-video-kangaroos-spotted-wandering-streets-west-bengals-jalpaiguri-probe-ordered-watch-5318604/> accessed 1 August 2022
 Shiv Sahay Singh, ‘2054 cases registered for killing, trafficking of wild animals’ (The Hindu, 11 December 2021), <https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/2054-cases-registered-for-killing-trafficking-of-wild-animals/article37934115.ece> accessed 1 August 2022
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 Constitution of India, 1950, art 48A
State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan, 1989, SCR Supl. (3) 455
Naveen Raheja v. Union of India, 2000,SCC (9) 762
Tilak Bahadur Rai v. State of Arunachal Pradesh, 1979, CriLJ 1404