What is wildlife? For most of us it is all that we watch on Animal Planet, but do you think there is more to it than just entertainment? We live in an ecosystem, we humans are not on the top of the chain, we are a part of it but we have forgotten to co-exist. We use the Earth’s resources as if we were the only ones on the planet, further we also do things that have led to the extinction of many species. Everything is interrelated. One of the reasons for climate change is the extinction or reduction in a number of some species that played an important role in ecological balance. Such reasons have made it necessary to make and implement stringent laws on the protection of wildlife and the environment.
In India, concern for wildlife was from the days of emperor Ashoka, He had prohibited the killing of certain species of animals and given them special status. Even poaching is been in India for ages, during the rule of Mughal emperor Jalal-Ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, who developed a liking for hunting and popularized it in the name of a tradition known as “Shikar” (Royal Hunting), it was later followed by many other royals.
The British were the first to make legislation like Elephants Preservation Act 1879 and the Wild Birds and Animal Protection Act,1912 in India. However, it was in 1972 when a comprehensive and legal framework was enacted at the national level which was known as Wild-Life Protection Act,1972. This act aims to protect wild animals, birds ad plants and ensure the ecological and environmental security of the country.
The constitution of India also provides articles dedicated to the protection of the environment including wild animals. As per Article 48-A of directive principles of state policy-
“The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
Likewise, Article 51A(g) imposes a fundamental duty on the citizens that—
“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the Natural Environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
One of the biggest reasons for the need for wildlife protection laws is poaching and trafficking of animals, especially wild exotic animals. Even though it is illegal, there is a large market for various animal-made products in the entire world like Tigerskin, elephant ivory, etc. Some laws prohibiting poaching and animal trafficking are as follows—
- The prevention of cruelty to animals act, 1960
- The wildlife protection act, 1972
- The Indian Penal Code,1960
- The Performing Animals (Registration) Rules,2001
- The experiments on animals (Control and Supervision) Rules, 1968
- The Transport of Animal Rules,1978
In this article, we will be discussing important provisions under the Wild-Life Protection Act, 1972.
Wild-Life Protection Act 1972
This act Prohibits and regulates the hunting of wild animals and contains a comprehensive provision for the protection of specific plants, prevention of trade and commerce of wild animals, formation of protected areas like sanctuaries, zoos, and national parks.
The 2006 amendment to this act talks about the establishment of a Tiger Conservation Foundation and a Tiger Conservation plan at the state level. It also provides for the formation of a National Tiger Conservation Authority and a Wild Life Crime Control Bureau at the National Level. Provisions on the prohibition of trade and commerce in wild animals, articles made from animals, trophies, the meat of certain animals, ivory, and articles made from it. These provisions give virtual monopoly in such articles to the state. Punishments under this act are very stringent, some offenses are punishable with jail extending to 7 years and a fine up to Rs.50 Lakhs. But don’t you think that’s not enough? Yes, the act also makes provisions for forfeiture of property derived from illegal hunting, poaching, and trading.
The definition of “Animals” under this act is quite wide and aims to protect various species, it includes –
- Birds(even the eggs)
- Reptiles and their young (even the eggs)
It also defines “ Animal articles” which include anything made from a captive, wild animal except for vermin. It also considers a thing whose some part is made of the animal as an animal article. Here vermin is any wild animal listed in Schedule V. The act defines taxidermy, which means the curing, preparation, or preservation of trophies. Here Trophy means, whole or part of the wild or captive animal which has been preserved or kept by any artificial or natural means. Example- rugs, skins, horns, etc. Uncured trophy means the whole or part of the wild or captive animal which is not undergone taxidermy.
The word hunting has also been given a wide definition. It includes killing or poisoning of any wild animals as well as attempt to do the same, capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving, or baiting any animal and its attempt, Injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body of that animal, and lastly in case of birds and reptiles, damaging their eggs. It is a punishable offense to hunt any animal listed in Schedule I, II, III, IV. It divides hunting into two categories—
- Hunting of wild animals which are dangerous –If the chief wildlife warden is satisfied that any wild animal from schedule I have turned dangerous to human life or animal from schedule II, III, IV has become dangerous to life or property or is disabled or deceased beyond recovery, may give order and permission in writing with reason to hunt such animal or group of animals. This order can only be given when all possible options like capturing, tranquilizing, and translocating are not possible. It is stated that it is not an offense to kill an animal in good faith for self-defense of oneself or another person.
- Hunting of wild animals for scientific research -With previous permission from the appropriate government, the chief wildlife warden, on receiving the said fees, can issue a permit in writing, stating reasons and allowing a person to hunt for education, scientific research, and management, collection of specimens, etc.
For the preservation of wildlife, this act also provides for the formation of sanctuaries and national parks which are declared as protected areas. The appropriate government will notify such areas if it believes the area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural, or geological significance. The government shall also appoint an officer to collect and inquire into the nature and rights of any persons in such protected areas.
It also makes provisions on the constitution of the Central Zoo Authority, which will be responsible for licensing and delicensing of zoos and prevent exploitation or harm to the animals in zoos. It is a regulatory authority for zoos.
One of the biggest harm to wildlife is done due to the trade and commerce of articles or trophies made from wild animals. The act gives virtual monopoly to states over this article and trophies, which means every wild animal that is hunted (except vermin)kept or bred in captivity or found dead due to killing/ animal article or trophy or meat derived from a wild animal, ivory imported and articles made from it and every vehicle, vessel, weapon, trap or tool used to commit such offense shall become the property of the State Government and if any such activity happens in the sanctuary or National Parks, it shall become the property of the central government. It also bans a person from keeping in control, custody, or possession or sell any animal in schedule I or Part II of Schedule II, animal article, trophies, dried skin, musk, tusk, and horns of rhinos. These provisions aim at preventing trade and commerce but the demand is still high for the articles made from animals. Further, the shortage of these increases the value in the international market which makes illegal poaching, killing of will animals a lucrative opportunity to earn in millions. The acts make it compulsory to obtain a license for the business of anything relating to will animals, cook or serve meat in eating houses, acts related to snake venom.
Penalties, Offences, and cognizance
- A person carrying on business concerning animals under Schedules, deals is ivory imported or articles made from it, taxidermist, deals in captive scheduled animals or meat of captive scheduled animals shall be punishable with imprisonment from 3 to 7 years and fine not less than Rs.10000.
- A person teasing, molesting, injuring, or feeding animals in the zoo or causing a disturbance by noise or littering shall be punishable for imprisonment up to 6 months or a fine up to Rs. 2000 or both.
- Any person who contravenes the provisions of this act or breaches any conditions of the license shall be punishable with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine up to Rs.25000 and imprisonment from 3 to 7 years in addition to a minimum fine of Rs.10000 for offenses relating to sanctuaries, national parks or animals specified under Schedule I or part II of Schedule II.
- If a person commits an offense in core areas of Tiger Reserves or hunts in tiger reserves or alters its boundaries. He shall be punishable with imprisonment from 3 to 7 years and a fine between Rs.50000 to Rs.200000.
A court shall take cognizance of any offense under this act only if the complaint is made by –
- Director of wildlife preservation or authority assigned on behalf of them.
- The member- secretary, central zoo authority in matters of zoos
- Member secretary of the tiger conservation authority,
- director of the tiger reserve
- chief wildlife warden
- officer in charge of the zoo
- any person who has given such notice not less than 60 days of such offense.
The act deals with pretty much everything that could negatively affect the wildlife but its implementation has to be done more seriously. I believe corruption is one of the reasons why we have not been successful in the implementation. The population of many endangered species is not rising or rather declining. The killing of rhinos for their horns and elephants for their tusks is happening under the nose of the authorities. The reason being corruption and bureaucracy. Steps need to be taken to keep a check on this. Even citizens should play a part here, make themselves aware of the laws in place, and speaking against such activities. The animals can’t speak up, but you can. Creating awareness is the key here. I believe the provisions can protect wild animals but the implementation part needs to be worked on.