After crackdown on cattle-smuggling, Indo-Bangladesh border sees spike in wildlife trafficking

Two weeks in the past, the Border Security Force in West Bengal’s Nadia district seized an uncommon consignment alongside the Indo-Bangladesh border: a gaggle of long-legged birds with white necks, black plumage and lengthy beaks. Markedly totally different from their typical seizure of contraband smuggled throughout the worldwide border, the troopers posted on the Hardaypur outpost had by no means seen such birds earlier than.

In the darkness of nightfall, the smugglers fled, forsaking an extended picket cage, too small to accommodate seven birds, every nearly two ft in peak. Soldiers within the BSF camp turned to Google Images for assist, realising that they’d seized straw-necked Ibis which can be native to Australia.

“The smuggling of wildlife has always been present along the Indo-Bangladesh border, but the frequency has increased over the past few months,” mentioned a senior BSF official requesting anonymity. “That could be because of the crackdown on cattle-smuggling and other large-scale smuggling following which smugglers have turned to what we call petty smuggling that includes wildlife.”

The seized ibis have been positioned inside a room inside BSF’s Hardaypur outpost, in Nadia district, West Bengal. (Photo credit score: Border Security Force, South Bengal)

While knowledge for the whole 4,156 km-long Indo-Bangladesh border was not instantly obtainable, that for BSF’s frontier in southern West Bengal signifies that bigger numbers of non-native or “exotic” wildlife have been seized over the previous three years. In 2019, a consignment of some 250 African pygmy falcons, a chicken species native to japanese and southern Africa, have been seized alongside this stretch. Despite Covid-19 border closures in 2020, traffickers had tried to smuggle nearly 200 international birds unidentified by the BSF, along with 250 protected turtles. This yr’s knowledge until September signifies that BSF South Bengal seized 90 non-native birds—excessive numbers for the 913.32 km lengthy frontier they’re tasked to protect, consultants advised

Within hours of seizure, the straw-necked Ibis have been despatched to the Bethuadahari Wildlife Sanctuary in Krishnanagar, Nadia district. “It was clear that the birds had been in captivity in those small cages for at least three to four days before they were trafficked across the border. In a small cage this small, if there are five to six birds, their physical conditions will be poor,” mentioned a junior forest division official within the sanctuary, requesting anonymity.

“With foreign birds, even though we work for the wildlife department, it is difficult for us to know what to immediately feed the birds. We have to search the internet. It is difficult for non-native birds to survive in alien environments like these.”

In his two years on the beat, Krishnanagar vary officer Debashis Biswas has witnessed BSF handing over numerous seizures of non-native birds and animals. “There are patterns when administering the second line of treatment for trafficked animals. Our vet checks the animals and birds. When seized non-native animals come to us, we use the trial and error method to understand what foods they are willing to eat,” he mentioned. Attempts by Biswas and his group to supply varied sorts of meals to the ibis after they first arrived on the sanctuary have been solely rejected, until fish was provided.

“When the ibis came to us, its droppings were like white chuna (lime), an indicator of poor health and possible internal injuries,” mentioned Biswas. After two weeks in quarantine, the ibis will likely be despatched to Alipore Zoo in Kolkata that oversees the care and custody of most non-native birds and animals seized near the Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal.

“It is well-known that birds exotic to India have been smuggled in through the Indo-Bangladesh border for a very long time. There is an established smuggling route here through the border and there have been many, many interceptions by the BSF, and some by the Assam forest department, some by Mizoram Police and some by Customs,” mentioned Agni Mitra, regional deputy director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

The massive numbers of wildlife trafficked by way of this area are due to rising calls for for non-native species amongst animal hobbyists and collectors, a excessive focus of whom are based mostly in southern India, but in addition in different components of the nation, mentioned Mitra.

Strict federal laws surrounding the import of wildlife and a rising fancy amongst bizarre folks for protecting unusual reside birds and animals at home for show, along with hobbyists and collectors, are one of many largest the explanation why the trafficking of non-native wildlife has elevated through the years, sources advised

“Duties are very high for the import of livestock, and a lot of permits are required which people try to avoid. The other reason is that the animal quarantine department (Animal Quarantine and Certification Service) requires certain tests for many wildlife which are not practised in developed countries anymore. Those tests were prescribed 30 years ago, and our documents still require it so they can’t be done in those countries from where the wildlife is being imported. That is another reason why smuggling is happening,” Mitra defined.

Last yr, when India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had issued an advisory asking folks to voluntarily disclose details about any “exotic live species” together with “animals named under named under the Appendices I, II and III of the CITES”, that they could possess, on the federal government’s Parivesh portal, setting a deadline of March 31, 2021 to submit needed paperwork, Mitra and his division observed one thing sudden: throughout this era, “there was a rush in the smuggling in of birds and other exotic mammals like marmosets, kangaroos, tortoises,” Mitra mentioned. Many of those consignments have been seized by varied authorities in India’s japanese border states; together with in Assam, Mizoram and West Bengal.

Sources who spoke to consider that the seized ibis have been probably destined to be part of personal zoos and collections in some a part of the nation or home breeding farms. “These are not wild birds and were possibly bred in farms of South Asian countries or Southeast Asian countries,” Mitra mentioned.

The BSF requested that the market worth of the ibis be withheld to forestall trafficking of the species. Experts advised that the excessive costs that wildlife fetch make it a profitable enterprise for cross-border smugglers.

There are a number of home elements that make the problem of the trafficking of wildlife by way of India’s borders advanced. “Any species of Indian origin is illegal to possess, as are species that are endangered or threatened and recognised by CITES. But still there are people who illegally possess these animals,” mentioned Vijay, an unique animal provider based mostly in southern India who has been within the enterprise for over 25 years. Due to a number of laws, possessing non-native species is simpler in India, he defined.

Loopholes in varied Indian legal guidelines make wider crackdowns on animal trafficking difficult, however the authorities is slowly transferring to repair these, consultants mentioned. “Smuggling of these animals into India by crossing the international border is an offence. But within India, the sale and possession of exotic birds is not. But if you cannot prove that the animal has been smuggled after it is inside India, it becomes a problem, because the Indian acts do not prohibit the possession of exotic birds and animals,” Mitra mentioned.

The bluish-green Common Grackle, a ‘near-threatened’ species, have been part of 126 non-native birds that have been seized by the BSF on the Maluapara border outpost in Nadia district, West Bengal on October 13, 2021. (Photo credit score: Border Security Force, South Bengal)

Once inside Indian territory, the non-native animals are misplaced inside the community of breeding farms throughout India, not all of which function lawfully, the place tracing the origins of any specific animal or chicken could be a problem. It is these sorts of loopholes that hobbyists, collectors and personal zoo house owners exploit to accumulate international species.

Last week, shortly after darkness descended on the Maluapara border outpost in Nadia district, BSF troopers observed exercise near the worldwide border. When they moved to intercept, the smugglers escaped by way of the dense vegetation, forsaking two rectangular cages stuffed full with small birds.

The bluish-green Common Grackle, a ‘near-threatened’ species, have been part of 126 non-native birds that have been seized by the BSF on the Maluapara border outpost in Nadia district, West Bengal on October 13, 2021. (Photo credit score: Border Security Force, South Bengal)

After seizure, the BSF discovered that the consignment contained 126 cut-throat finches, native to Africa, and bluish-green Common Grackle, native to North America, listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘near threatened’. The birds have been later despatched to the Ranaghat forest workplace within the district.

The cut-throat finches have been part of 126 non-native birds that have been seized by the BSF on the Maluapara border outpost in Nadia district, West Bengal on October 13, 2021. (Photo credit score: Border Security Force, South Bengal)

“It is difficult to describe the traumatic conditions that the birds and animals are subjected to in the process of trafficking. Some of the sights that I have seen when they come to us, cannot be adequately described,” mentioned Biswas. A senior BSF official advised that whereas the ibis have been being trafficked throughout the Indo-Bangladesh border, two had died.

The cut-throat finches have been part of 126 non-native birds that have been seized by the BSF on the Maluapara border outpost in Nadia district, West Bengal on October 13, 2021. (Photo credit score: Border Security Force, South Bengal)

Despite the rising numbers of seizures alongside India’s worldwide borders, Mitra mentioned that the federal government’s move to require declaration of all unique species was a needed step in curbing wildlife trafficking. “Now we have declarations of what CITES species each person has. If we find that they have additions, they will have to explain it. The problem is that if we find violations where an animal or bird is not declared, the penalty is not specified in any of the acts,” mentioned Mitra.