Over 60,000 live wild animals confiscated by enforcement agencies worldwide remain untraceable, a new report today said, raising concerns that they could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry even as India's reporting on such seizures is "non-existent".
The report, released by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection, said that between 2010 and 2014, more than 64,000 live wild animals were officially reported as seized by wildlife enforcement agencies according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) trade database.
However, experts said that despite having the figures, the ultimate fate of seized live wild animals on whether they have "re-entered" the wildlife trafficking industry or have been rehabilitated remained "unknown" and hence "untraceable".
"The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by CITES enforcement agencies remains untraceable," a statement by World Animal Protection (WAP) said.
Researchers warn that these animals are likely to be only a fraction of actual seizures, as the study found only one in three (30 per cent) of countries that are parties to CITES provided any information.
"Two out of three countries did not report any live wildlife seizures, despite poaching of endangered species to supply the illicit global wildlife trade being estimated to be worth between USD 8-10 billion per year," the statement said.
The figures have prompted calls for better reporting of seizures and what happens to confiscated live wild animals.
"Illegal wildlife trade in Asia is a growing concern but reporting by India of live wild animals confiscated by enforcement agencies in the CITES trade database is virtually non-existent.
"We strongly urge the CITES trade database to include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals, and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade," WAP India Country Director Gajender K Sharma said.
The findings and recommendations of this research will be presented at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa on September 27 during an event focused on the confiscation of live wild animals organised by the Species Survival Network (SSN).
Noting that the ultimate fate of seized live wild animals
is unknown, the report said that once animals have been confiscated, national authorities must decide whether to keep them in captivity, return them to the wild or euthanise them.
"We fear this staggering number is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a relatively small proportion of wild animals involved with illegal trade are thought to be intercepted and reported by enforcement agencies - confiscation records were completely missing for 70 per cent of countries party to CITES. Given the rapidly growing global trends in illegal wildlife trade activity, it is highly unlikely that no live wildlife seizures were made on their borders," said Professor David Macdonald, a senior researcher on the study.
Researchers are concerned that this lack of data is placing the wellbeing and survival of seized wildlife at risk as many wild animals could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry as they simply cannot be accounted for.
"The records that were provided show that around 20 per cent of all live wild animals reported as seized are currently considered to be threatened by extinction.
"We strongly recommend that the CITES trade database should include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade," Macdonald said.
Lead researcher of WAP Neil D'Cruze termed illegal wildlife trade as a "big, complex and dirty business" and said national authorities play a key role and also face some tough choices during animal seizures as to whether they should release them in the wild, place them in care in captivity or euthanise them.
"Improved data recording is critical to knowing what happens to each animal and can help in looking at the challenges and issues enforcement agencies face in managing animals after seizure.
"Without this transparency, there's a real possibility that endangered species may be put back into the hands of the same criminals whom they were taken from. We need to be able to account for these wild animals.
"If we are really serious about protecting wildlife, action needs to be taken at all levels. It is unfathomable that 70 per cent of countries made no live wild animal seizures when we know a global, multi-billon wildlife trafficking industry is flourishing," D'Cruze added.