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Illegal antler trade continues to flourish in city despite ban

The Hitavada, Nagpur
Published on 14th July'2005

The recent seizures of antlers around Nagpur has once again established that the illegal trade in antlers, banned since 1998, is very much on. More shockingly, Forest Department sources say, the city is the center of this lucrative trade estimated at over Rs.100 Crores annually!

The continuing trade despite ban especially in and around the city that has the headquarters of Forest department of the state, raises serious questions about seriousness of the department to curb it.

Three seizures were made in the past two months of huge stock of antlers around Nagpur (Khapa / Deolapar / Mansar). The stock had come from adjoining states and interestingly all the shipments were headed to Nagpur. The Forest Department is unable to find the ultimate destination of the antlers.

There are illegal antler manufacturers in the city grouped under Antlers association of India (AAI). The Union Government had given them six months until July 5, 2005, to exhaust their existing stocks and wind up their business. This was done after the ban when traders pleaded that they had commitments to fulfill with foreign buyers and that they should be given time to exhaust their existing stock.

"this sudden spurt in the illegal business can be linked to the permission granted by the government to the dealers to sell off their stocks", said a forest official not wanting to be named.

Talking to The Hitavada, Nitin Desai of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and the man largely responsible for imposition of the ban on this trade, said, "I feel that the ban on collection of shed antlers and manufacturing of antler articles has hardly had any impact on the collection and manufacturing of those and it is continuing unabated."

More disturbing is that in some of the seizures antlers of Barasingha  a schedule I animal  was found. The collection of Barasingha antlers was not allowed even before the ban was imposed in 1998. it clearly indicates that some elements may be poaching animals for antlers.

The then President of AAI and a very close aide of a Union Minister in the UPA government Rakesh Sharma was arrested twice by the forest officials in connection with three separate seizures of around 15,000 kgs of antlers.

Biogini International, run by Sharma, had declared a stock of only 5,325 kgs. Of antlers to the government in the year 1998.

The persons found to be in possession of these antlers had in their written statement said that Sharma is the owner of these antlers. However, Sharma had denied these claims and all the three cases are now pending in courts.

Collection of shed antlers causing damage to forest flora and fauna

Antlers are prized item because they find multiple uses; particularly in European fashion industry. At one time, collection of shed antlers was considered harmless. However, now conservationists know that collection of shed antlers also causes irreparable damage to the flora and fauna of the forests as antlers are part of forest food chain.

Antlers store excess calcium for carnivores that prey on deer and antelopes. Carnivores and scavengers are often seen feeding on them.

Picking up shed antlers may not involve killing of animals but it deprives carnivores of their calcuium requirement. Even otherwise, they are part of forest bio-mass and if they are not eaten, they putrefy and return their nutrients to soil. For the human beings, antlers take the shape of buttons in high fashion garments, cutlery items, decorative pieces, butts of pistols, knife handles, pen-stands, and other items of vanity. They fetch up to Rs. 2000 kgs in international market and hence are a coveted commodity. This provides a great incentive for traders and poachers to go after it.  They do not always wait for antlers to be shed too. Often, poaching the animal provides an easy way to collect the horns. A full grown sambhar can yield five to seven kgs of antlers while a cheetal yields three to four kgs.  




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