Smuggling of exotic wildlife has increased in India.

 Smuggling of exotic wildlife has increased in India.

Exotic animal smuggling through border countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar is quickly increasing. The lack of formal regulation in the industry permits it to thrive.

West Bengal forest officials rescued three kangaroos and collected the carcass of another last month in the Jalpaiguri district's woods.

Despite the fact that the rescued kangaroos were eventually delivered to the Bengal Safari Park, wildlife experts believe they were almost probably born in Southeast Asian breeding facilities and smuggled across the border.

The animals are the most recent exotic animals to be smuggled into India, presumably as pets. Their smuggling highlights the flaws in South Asia's booming wildlife commerce.

Demand for exotic animal parts is on the rise.

"Kangaroos have been discovered in north Bengal for the second time. "A study has been launched to determine how and where the animals entered the forests," Hari Krishnan, a divisional forest officer, told reporters.

Bangladesh to the south, Nepal to the east, and Bhutan to the north surround the lowland forest zone at Gajoldoba Forest, where the kangaroos were discovered.

According to wildlife activists, the illegal wildlife trade has evolved into a kind of organised transnational crime that threatens the extinction of numerous wild species around the world.

Over 400 caged exotic animals, including three-toed sloths, beavers, snakes, rare reptiles, and pottos (a little monkey), were confiscated in one of the largest consignments in the northeastern province of Mizoram, which borders Myanmar, just a few weeks ago.

On two consecutive days a week ago, customs officials in the southern city of Chennai foiled two attempts to import wild animals from Thailand.

Authorities intercepted a person who had arrived from Bangkok after receiving a tip. The albino porcupine and a white-lipped red-chested tamarin (a squirrel-sized monkey species) were soon discovered in his luggage. In a separate occurrence, authorities retrieved a sugar glider (possum) from a container that had been hidden within a passenger's luggage.

“This is a lucrative market and smuggling happens. For every item of contraband seized, there are many more which pass by undetected into India, as there is no law governing the possession, trade and breeding of exotic animals,” Tito Joseph, program manager of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told DW.

Lack of legal protection for wildlife

Unfortunately, the trade in exotic species does not fall within the purview of the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act, leaving a gaping legal hole in India’s wildlife protection system. This is well exploited by those involved in various levels of the wildlife trade.

Markets trading in live exotic wildlife are even operating online and apprehending illegal traders and poachers has so far been an enormously ineffective endeavor.

The exotic birds and rare animals are first caught in the jungles of Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries in Africa. They are then caged, sent out on cargo ships, and sent to India on fishing boats or by air.

“India has also seen a rise in demand for exotic animals. Animals from Thailand, Malaysia and other top tourist destinations in Southeast Asia are being smuggled into the country,” said Joseph.

Many experts feel that the frequent seizure of exotic animals indicates a growing international trade and increasing demand for wet markets in the region.

Wildlife Protection Act ignores exotic species

“Traders and traffickers have been exploiting this legal shortfall to the fullest,” Subbiah Nallamuthu, a leading wildlife filmmaker, told DW. “Exotic species of birds are now trafficked into India’s black markets. Since it is well organized, it is hard to gauge the real scale and scope of the trade.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of India, diverse products including mongoose hair, snake skins, turtle shells, musk pods and bear bile are bound for the international market and have no direct demand in India.

Large quantities of ambergris , a waxy substance that comes from a whale’s digestive tract , have been seized from various parts of the country over the last two years. Ambergris is used in the West to stabilize the scent of fine perfumes.

“I agree there is a gap in the law and it will be plugged very soon. But one of the reasons why there have been more seizures is also that more institutions are becoming aware of exotic animal smuggling,” H V Girisha, the deputy director of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, told DW.

India has also been a member of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) since 1976. CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

‘Penalties are too weak’

“But without political backing, disincentives for over-exploitation and illegal trade, such as penalties for legal infringements, are all too often weak,” said the WWF.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), elephant tusks, pangolin scales, tiger skins and parts of Indian star tortoises are just some of the wildlife parts that have been confiscated at Indian airports, in part of a growing trend of exploiting airports to traffic illegal wildlife.

The 2020 World Wildlife Report found that 6,000 different species of flora and fauna were seized between 1999 and 2018. Suspected traffickers from around the world were identified, illustrating that wildlife crime is a global issue.

The latest report by UNEP’s partner TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring agency, found that over 70,000 native and exotic animals and their derivatives were trafficked through 18 Indian airports between 2011 and 2020.

“India is among the top ten countries in terms of using the airline sector for wildlife trafficking,” said Atul Bagai, head of the UNEP in India. “This is an unwanted accolade.”

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