Snatched from the wild, stolen from nests and left to die: An investigation into Delhi’s illegal bird trade

Posted on Nov 29 2015 - 7:22pm by admin

Most Indian families have grown up with a mithu parrot or lovebirds as pets in their homes, but oblivious to these families, the birds suffer a cruel fate. 

Snatched from the wild, stolen from nests and left to die while smuggling, a staggering number of exotic birds that are sold in the desi market are illegally brought in by heartless traders. 

“The burning issue at the moment is trade in pet birds. It is very unfortunate that the species, though protected, are still trafficked widely,” says Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder, Wildlife SOS. 

It is difficult to tell if the birds sold at pet shops are caught in the wild or aviary bred (pictured: customers at a Delhi pet shop)

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It is difficult to tell if the birds sold at pet shops are caught in the wild or aviary bred (pictured: customers at a Delhi pet shop)

A staggering number of birds are cruelly being smuggled into India in lakhs per year, over porous borders and in appalling conditions. 

“Animals come into India stuffed and suffocated in bottles, in the piping of suitcases, PVC pipes, even in underwear,” shares Ambika Hiranandani, lawyer and animal rights activist.

“They are stuffed in socks, crammed in shoes and their beaks are taped shut,” adds Rachel Koyama, avian expert and lead researcher and head of field operations, People for Animals. 

The smugglers capture around 100 birds at a time and then transport them to different countries, stuffed into small boxes and bottles (pictured: a caged cockatoo)

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The smugglers capture around 100 birds at a time and then transport them to different countries, stuffed into small boxes and bottles (pictured: a caged cockatoo)

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COVERT BIZ

“To catch wild parrots, the hunters take two of them as bait and puncture their eyes. 

“These blind and wounded birds are then left on a sheet, where they cry out for help. Soon hundreds of birds will come for help. 

“As soon as they descend, the hunters will throw a sheet or chaadar over them and capture them,” says an activist. 

The hunters also use natural gums to trap them. 

The smugglers capture around 100 birds at a time and then transport them to different countries, usually stuffed into small boxes and left without food or water for days. 

It is a given that approximately 60 per cent of the birds will die in the process, but the ones that survive cover up for costs within a few sales. 

Rough estimates state that for every 10 birds smuggled, only one will survive. 

Exotic birds can go for anything from Rs 400 to a few lakhs, depending on how endangered they are and how legal the transaction is. 

The legality of the matter, however, is a different beast altogether. 

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 protects only native Indian birds like Munias, Parakeets, Peacocks, Weaverbirds, Koel, Mynahs, and Owls, which despite the ban are available for sale across the country. 

Says Nikunj Sharma, Government Affairs Liason Head for Peta, “Tantrics or shamans use owls for black magic, especially between October and November. 

“Their bones, blood, claws, skull and organs are used and they are sacrificed during Diwali to bless the family with wealth all-year round.” 

Other birds commonly trafficked are the aam tota or Ringneck parrot or Rose-ringed parakeet. 

“Nearly every Indian home has one, even though the punishment includes a fine of Rs 25,000 or a jail term up to three years, or both,” says Abhinav Srihan, Delhi-based animal rights activist who works with Fauna Police. 

“But the law isn’t implemented. Wildlife inspectors won’t even come if you call them. 

“Second, if you take it up with the police, they’ll just laugh at you for coming up with such a case,” says Srihan. 

A visit to some of the pet shops in Delhi’s Katwaria Sarai by the Mail Today team provided a glimpse into the murky business and the unethical practices indulged in by some shop owners with impunity. 

Some of the shops did not even have registration numbers. 

Rizwan, one of the shopkeepers, who showed us Java Finches, Jacobin Pigeons and nesting birds in dirty cages, insisted that they were all farm bred. 

He even horrifyingly claimed that he can make the birds dance for us by filling its body with air. 

“Iss kabootar ke andar hum hawa bhardenge. Ye apne aap se pet me se hawa nikaal de ga, aur phir aapke liye dance karega.” 

Apart from the terrible conditions that these birds at stores are put through, it’s next to impossible to tell whether they are caught in the wild, smuggled, or aviary bred. 

“Birds that are smuggled are fraudulently legitimised by saying that they are captive bred in India, which ‘technically’ makes them aviary bred or exotic birds. 

“These are not covered under the Wildlife Protection Act,” states Satyanarayan. 

Adds Srihan, “With captive bred birds, the seller can’t afford to let them die because the bird can command up to Rs 1-2 lakh. 

“But with wild birds, they will catch 100 at a time and even if 50 die, it doesn’t matter because there is no money invested in catching them.” 

Once brought into India, breeding for commercial purposes is often inhumane. 

“These birds lay eggs only once a year, but traders forcebreed them by injecting chemicals and hormones, which speeds up their reproductive cycle,” says Koyama, the avian expert.

“This alters their life span and disrupts their hormonal balance,” she says. 

Adds Hiranandani, “Traders claim that the birds lay seven to eight eggs a year, but the fact is they can lay only one or two.” 

Though captive birds can be as smart as five-year-old humans, the confinement and neglect often lead the birds into depression, loneliness and neurotic behaviours like hopping from one foot to another, plucking their own feathers out and self-mutilation. 

However, setting them free isn’t an answer to their woes either. 

“We can’t release aviary birds because this is not their native environment. 

“Crows, mynahs and kites will kill them,” says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder & secretary, Wildlife SOS. 

“They no longer have instincts for survival in the wild, and there are countless cases where Bajri birds or cockatoos drop down in exhaustion or die from trying to escape their prey.” 

All activists agree that a gradual fading out of captive birds is the best option, coupled with a blanket ban on breeding birds and punishing traders as poachers. 

“If you want to see a wild animal, go over to the wild, camp there and see one,” states Rachel. 

With inputs from Kumar Vikram

 

 

 

How porous borders help bird smuggling racket thrive

International birds traded in the country are at the mercy of the smugglers. 

The shocking part is that many of these illegally traded species come under a treaty signed by the government with other countries — CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) 1973, for their protection. 

The agreement aims at regulating wildlife trade between countries, and lists a number of birds that are on the verge of extinction. 

Some of these include the Yellow-crested Cockatoo of East Timor and Indonesia, Macaws, African Grey Parrot and Java Sparrows. 

All these birds are readily available for sale in the country. 

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 protects only native Indian birds. “Our borders are porous, and the checking points very few," said Nishant Verma of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Northern Region

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The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 protects only native Indian birds. “Our borders are porous, and the checking points very few,” said Nishant Verma of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Northern Region

“The reason why we don’t want to officially promote trade in exotic birds is because it impacts the native country,” says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder and secretary, Wildlife SOS. 

This, however, has led to poaching. 

“CITES has not been implemented here properly — it needs to be put into the local legislation for it to be effective. 

“It should be inserted into the WPA (Wildlife Protection Act),” says Rachel Koyama, adding, “only then can an organisation take action to suspend the licence of traders without documents for CITES-listed birds.” 

Reacting to the issue of bird smuggling, Regional Deputy Director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Northern Region, Nishant Verma told Mail Today that India needs a legal framework for exotic birds that enter the country.

“We need a framework which comes under state jurisdiction,” said Verma. 

“Our borders are porous, and the checking points very few. 

“The smugglers enter through the Petrapole-Benapole border of India and Bangladesh, from Nepal to Roxul Bihar, from Kanchanpur district in Nepal to Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh,” said Verma. 

“We are conducting sensitisation programmes for frontline officials on the border to be vigilant. 

“If they detect a consignment of wildlife species, they need to know what their role is and how to detect it,” he said. 

Commenting on birds that are seized, Verma admitted that the department is reluctant to keep them as they may die. 

“Once seized by the police or forest agency, Indian birds become the property of the government. 

“As for exotic birds, it’s very different. They are either handed over to a private caretaker or to a zoo,” said Verma. 

“Looking after this is mainly the responsibility of the state governments, we can only supplement their efforts,” he added. 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-3337741/Snatched-wild-stolen-nests-left-die-investigation-Delhi-s-illegal-bird-trade.html#ixzz3suHbBL8j
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