Kangaroos in the Street and Iguana Suitcase: India’s Exotic Pet Problem | Illegal natural trade

Ffrom the red-eared sliding turtle, cockatoo and hawk to the yellow-cheeked gibbon, capuchin monkey and orangutan, nothing is too much for those who require unusual pets in Cheap. But it was the sight of three kangaroos wandering the streets of West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district in April that brought home the scale of the country’s exotic pet trade.

The malnourished kangaroos were caught after knowledge of locals. One of the rescued marsupials later died, while the other two are recovering and will be repatriated to a nearby zoo.

A red-eared sliding turtle smuggled into India.
A red-eared sliding turtle smuggled into India. Photo: Traffic India

A senior forestry official said the Indian Express at the time: “We’re surprised who brought these kangaroos here, and how. We suspect they are being smuggled into Nepal. “

Kangaroos have been the latest in a series of smuggling cases of exotic species in India in recent years: in April, five exotic monkeys and a wallaby were rescued in Assam shortly after five Siamese gibbons were found in the same state; 30 exotic birds and red-eared guenone, native to Africa and listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, have been caught at the Mizoram-Assam border in January 2021; en July 2020, also in Assam, kangaroo, blue macaws, Capuchin monkeys and Aldabra giant tortoises were rescued; and in October 2019The customs department at Tiruchirappalli International Airport in Tamil Nadu seized a suitcase full of exotic reptiles, including iguanas.

According to a report of Traffic India, more than 70,000 indigenous and exotic wildlife were captured at India’s airports between 2011 and 2020, with many featured on the IUCN Red List and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) appendices. The most common non-native species caught was the red-skinned turtle, followed by the Chinese pond turtle.

The exotic animals are sold in markets and pet stores across India, as well as online. Dujara study found up to 84 exotic reptile species were traded in India between 2018 and 2020.

“India is both a source and a destination for illegal wildlife trade, and is sometimes a crossroads,” said Jose Louies, head of wildlife control at the Fauna Faith of India. “The exotic animal trade in India is driven by the demand of people who would like to own something exclusive and expensive, such as style or status symbol, regardless of their natural habitat. Most of the animals end up in a zoo because the country of origin may not be repatriate them. “

Gray parrot in a birdhouse with other birds
Exotic birds are among the growing numbers of species being smuggled and sold in markets and pet stores across India. Photo: Traffic India

Dr Saket Badola, head of Traffic India, says: “The number and diversity of exotic species smuggled into India has surprised everyone. We attribute it to the growing number of Indians with disposable income and the influence of social media where people are exposed. to exotic species kept as pets all over the world. “

Traffickers exploit an undercover detour in India in 1978 Wildlife Protection Act, which protects native species but does not cover imported or exotic species. Trade in certain exotic species listed by Cites is permitted only with import and export licenses, certificates and permits from appropriate authorities. However, the animal can be traded freely once it has entered India.

In June 2020, the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change offered an amnesty to Indians in possession of exotic species without documentation. More than 32,000 people declared animals, including kangaroos, iguanas and lemurs, according to a report by IndiaSpend, a data journalism initiative.

“The concerns about this illegal trade are numerous,” Badola says. “In addition to threatening the species in their natural habitat, they can spread zoonotic diseases as they travel around the globe, carrying pathogens and viruses not seen in this part of the world. Many invasive imported species can also threaten local species.

“Most of the illegal shipments come by air, because many species are very expensive. To minimize losses they are hidden in plastic boxes and bottles, in handbags, parcels or air cargo. Others that come by land are transported through the porous boundaries with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. ”

Many animals that are captured are repatriated, but if their country of origin is unclear, they are quarantined and then sent to local zoos or nature parks.

“The most important concern is that invasive species that reach the country as part of this international trade could affect our biodiversity,” Louies says.

Traffic works with customs officers at airports, training staff to be aware of illegal smuggling beyond gold or narcotics. They have also developed an online course on wildlife trade, including relevant laws, red flags for alerting at airports and how to deal with traps of dangerous species.

Activists hope that the Wild (protection) amendment bill, 2021 will be approved by the Indian parliament this year, increasing the number of species protected by law.

“The proposed amendment authorizes the government to regulate or prohibit the importation, trade, possession or proliferation of invasive alien species that pose a threat to wildlife or habitat,” said Debadityo Sinha of the See Center for Legal Policy.

But, he adds: “The proposed definition of ‘invasive alien species’ is limited to only species that are not native to India. Ideally, this definition should include any non-native species to the geographical range. We have many examples that indicate that species from one geographical area can become invasive and pose a threat to local biodiversity when introduced into other geographical areas within the country. “

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