Explainer: Wildlife Crime


Shreya Sethi

Hunting and illegal wildlife trade can result in local extirpation of species and pose a significant threat to wildlife. Despite its legal prohibition in India under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, hunting and illegal wildlife trade are still prevalent in the country. Wildlife persisting in the forest corridors is especially vulnerable to hunting given the lower protection level accorded to them compared to the Protected Areas.

In the Indian context, “hunting” is defined by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, (now, Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2022) as: “hunting, with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions, includes, (a) capturing, killing, poisoning, snaring, and trapping of any wild animal and every attempt to do so, (b) driving any wild animal for any of purposes specified in sub-clause c) injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body of any such animal, or in the case of wild birds or reptiles, damaging the eggs of such birds or reptiles, or disturbing the eggs or nests of such birds or reptiles.”

Seized wire snares used for poaching wild animals like wild hare, spotted deer, wild pig, etc. for bushmeat (Photo Credit: A. Khune)

Illegal wildlife hunting, more commonly referred to as poaching (the word ‘Poaching’ is derived from the Middle Eastern word “Pocche” meaning to put in a bag), is defined as “to take (game or fish) by illegal methods” by Merriam-Webster Dictionary. There is no legal definition for “Poaching” within the Act. There is no distinction between illegal hunting and poaching in India as per the law. Hunting and attempting to hunt any animal listed in Schedule I to IV is prohibited under the Act and is a punishable offence. Hence, poaching and hunting of wildlife can be used interchangeably.

Compared to other countries, India has strong wildlife protection laws, but their enforcement varies depending on the region, protected area and the legal status of the natural habitat in question. Exceptions to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, are:

  1. The law allows for hunting by the tribals from indigenous tribes of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  1. Through “delegated legislation” hunting is permitted in Schedule 6 area (e.g Karbi Anglong, Assam) of the Indian Constitution for personal use only. Here, with regards to national legislation, hunting of all Scheduled species for commercial gain in India is illegal under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. It is important to note that hunting of some species outside of Reserved Forests for personal use can be permitted for certain native tribal communities (notified by Autonomous Council) in Schedule 6 areas. In this context, if the Regional Council deems fit it can enact delegated legislation in the form of rules or regulations which either permit hunting by local tribes for personal use or can even restrict them completely. However, if the Regional Council has not made any such “delegated legislation” then “principal legislation” either made by the State or by the Central Government which restricts hunting outside Reserved Forests continues to be applicable. Furthermore, in case of conflict between delegated legislation of Regional Council and principal legislation, the latter will prevail since principal legislation is enacted by the State Assemblies in case of State law having the assent of the Governor and by Parliament in case of Centre Law having the assent of the President.
  1. “Fishing” is not equated with “hunting” under the Act except in the case of specific Scheduled species listed under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.   

In a broad context, illegal wildlife hunting/poaching and wildlife trade can be referred to as Wildlife Crimes (defined as any harm to (or intent to harm and subsequent trade of) non-domesticated wild animals, in contravention of the national and international laws and conventions).

Wildlife hunting can be categorised based on five broad drivers, viz. (Harrison et al., 2015):

  1. Subsistence hunting for personal consumption as bush meat (sometimes as a result of taste and preferences), medicinal value and traditional values of wildlife derivatives,
  2. Hunting as a source of alternative livelihood opportunity which includes use of live animals for performance,
  3. Commercial hunting is mainly for economic gains arising from meeting foreign demand for wildlife derivatives i.e. illegal wildlife trade and trophy hunting and/or to cater to national rural and urban demand,
  4. Retaliatory/targeted hunting as a response to negative human-wildlife interface and,
  5. Opportunistic hunting is often defined as one-off hunting of wild animals as a result of proximity to wildlife habitat and species and/or during collection of firewood and non-timber forest produce.
  6. It is also a known fact that drivers and motivations for wildlife hunting stated above are not mutually exclusive. For example, species hunted as a result of targeted hunting could be consumed subsequently as bushmeat.

India has a strong legislation, but the efficacy of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is not limited to the provisions mentioned therein but, its enforcement and implementation on-ground and in this context, the words of Hugh Allen (1987) spell out the caveat most lucidly,

“It is important to remember that strengthening the law alone is no substitute for enforcing what is already in the statutory book.”


Allen, H. 1987. The Lonely Tiger. Penguin Books. London, UK. 

Government of India., 1972. The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Available at: http://envfor.nic.in/legis/wildlife/(Accessed October 22, 2016)

Harrison, M., Roe, D., Baker, J., Mwedde, G., Travers, H. and Plumptre, A., 2015. Wildlife Crime: A review of the evidence on drivers and impacts in Uganda. IIED. London, UK.