Superstitions have formed the crux of functionality and the existence of several communities within and beyond India. Even though many of these are based on unrelated correlations, coincidences, and misunderstandings, they have become an imminent part of several people’s belief systems. And how much ever we would like to believe that we have outgrown such archaic concepts, these rituals are still practiced. India is one of the 183 signatories of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty that provides varying degrees of protection to over 37,000 animal and plant species based on their condition in the wild. Yet, India ranks as one of the major regions for illegal wildlife trade.

superstitous rituals

Even though there is no long-term evidence, this is because superstition-based demand fuels the pressure for these species catering to the greed of poachers. For example, in late 2021, illegally traded animals, including 40 sea fans, mongoose skin, dried genitals of monitor lizards, porcupine quills, and musk deer parts, were confiscated in northern Maharashtra, all of which were required for superstitious rituals and sacrifices. 

porcupine quills
Porcupine quills

The demand has been so high that this trading system goes beyond the country. For example, China buys tigers from India to use their skin and bones to make ancient medicines. The illegal wildlife trade—of living and dead animals encompasses thousands of species and produces $7-23 billion in illicit cash each year.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Wildlife Crime Report for 2020, which is based on a record of about 1.8 lakh seizures from 149 countries, nearly 6,000 species were confiscated between 1999 and 2019, spanning mammals, reptiles, corals, birds, and fish. Aside from the CITES, there are several national wildlife acts that ban the illegal trade of animals and plants. Uttara Mendiratta, program head of the Counter Wildlife Trafficking at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India, said, “But it’s more complicated now because a lot of it is online.”

However, such confiscations are unfortunately very common and hence have a seriously damaging impact on the environment. And as most of these species are endangered, the need for preserving them has only increased. Sea fans, for example, are essential components of coral reef ecosystems, according to Vardhan Patankar, a senior scientist at WCS India who has been analyzing coral reef ecosystems for more than a decade. Sea fan collectors use hammers to rip sea fans off coral reefs, causing damage to the reefs in the process. Collectors also seek out larger, more lucrative fans. This badly affects the aquatic ecosystem, as coral reefs protect from storms and erosion. 

sea fan wildlife trade
Sea fans

Superstition-caused trade is profuse in the illegal trade community, but it is unknown to common citizens. Confiscations happen left and right, yet they do not seem to stop. This is extremely alarming. Hence, people should be educated about the environment and status of such living organisms, as many consumers reside in rural areas and religious figures like the Dalai Lama need to disprove such myths. Many of these rituals signify the socio-economic status of the performers and are prioritized above important factors such as financial security and education. Therefore, there is an urgent need for awareness as well as wildlife trade. 

Written by: Samiksha

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