Wild exotic animals are not glamorous. Start by amending the Wildlife Act

A A few years ago, the editor of a well-known lifestyle magazine walked down a fashion show ramp at a 5-star hotel in Pune, showing a live pygmy marmoset (monkey finger) stuffed into the his coat pocket. He had the ladies swooning over him all evening, admiring the little primate who sat very still. Several have asked him where they could buy one for their child or their family. What they didn’t realize was that the endearing, well-behaved little monkey, who is not from India, may have been stressed and mortified due to the bright lights and deafening music of the fashion show he had to endure all evening.

Seeing one of the videos that came out of the party, I was furious because posting this form is exactly what encourages people to buy a non-native wild animal as an exotic pet that looks practical and carries a quotient” cool”.

Over the years, the trending choices for keeping pets in India have changed drastically. While dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs are always popular pets for families and children, keeping exotic wildlife such as ball pythons, corn snakes, iguanas, macaws, parakeets, turtles, lemurs, pygmy marmosets and sugar gliders have become popular choices among young adults or individuals who want to “make a statement” by owning a “wild” pet.

In more recent news, we read rescued kangaroos from the outskirts of a town in northern Bengal, orangutans are smuggled and missing inside mumbai cityand reports from the Pune district of railway police apprehending traders on moving trains while smuggling 1200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises stuffed in a small suitcase.

A pygmy marmoset paraded at a fashion event as a pocket square in Pune.

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Exotic Wildlife Buyers

“Owning exotic wild animals as pets is legal in India if you have supporting documents, however, domestic regulation of rampant trade and transport is non-existent. Huge sums are paid to acquire these pets, and the growing demand is therefore met by horrific acts of poaching in the wild, smuggling or illegal breeding followed by incomprehensible trauma these animals suffer during transit and transportation,” says Sumanth Bindumadhav. , Senior Manager, Wildlife, Disaster Response and Dharwad Programme, Humane Society International/India. “The ordeal for them does not end at the point of sale, as they are often condemned to a life of unnatural living conditions devoid of any form of animal welfare.”

In addition to animal suffering, the wildlife trade poses significant risks to biodiversity and disease transfer. It is the fourth transnational illicit and organized crime after the trafficking of drugs, arms and human beings, which has undeniably been tracked to fuel terrorist activities and threats to national security.

    Collage of images from e-commerce sites, WhatsApp group chats and WhatsApp status messages where endemic and exotic wild animals are offered for sale.  These groups are primarily created for dog breeders, but invariably host several people involved in breeding and selling wild animals.
Collage of images from e-commerce sites, WhatsApp group chats and WhatsApp status messages where endemic and exotic wild animals are offered for sale. These groups are primarily created for dog breeders, but invariably host several people involved in breeding and selling wild animals.

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New Bill: a gaping hole waiting to be filled

Since 1976, India has been one of 180 countries that have signed the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international agreement between governments that aims to regulate international trade in flora and fauna so that they are not driven to extinction. Although we have made significant contributions and represented several interventions for global species conservation at the CITES Conference of the Parties, the inability to regulate domestic trade and ownership in India is a paradox we have been living with ever since. over 40 years.

The New Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill 2021 through the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2022, finally signals a step change for India’s biodiversity and protection from the multiple threats posed by the trade and ownership of exotic wildlife.

There are several key changes in the act, but the one I most welcome is the inclusion of the section regarding the implementation of CITES in India and a dedicated appendix for species listed in Appendices I, II and III of the CITES.

When the treaty was signed in 1976, the Director of Wildlife Conservation, GoI, was appointed as the primary management authority for CITES in India. The proposed bill asks the central government to appoint a management authority and details responsibilities such as issuing permits for the import and export of specimens, regulating domestic trade and transfer, and issuing certificates. of registration to persons who possess live specimens which are mentioned in the appendix. . It also includes the appointment of a Scientific Authority by designating one or more institutes engaged in research on different species to provide advice on matters relating to specimens in trade.

Essential in addressing damage suffered over the years and empowering to correct disturbances caused to the natural ecological balance, the bill also gives central government control to prohibit the import, trade or possession invasive alien (or alien) species. ), which refers to any plant or animal that is not native to India and is proven to have a negative influence on its wildlife or environment. In such cases, the central government may formally authorize the confiscation and removal of invasive species.

“The proposed bill has significantly increased and doubled the general fines for offenses from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1,00,000, which may also contribute to increasing the fear of consequences for wrongdoers and drive the implementation of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 and subsequent amendments,” says Bindumadhav.

1200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises discovered by Pune district railway police.  They were piled up in boxes and bags of vegetables to be transported in a small suitcase.  |  Photo credit: special arrangement
1200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises discovered by Pune district railway police. They were piled up in boxes and bags of vegetables to be transported in a small suitcase. | Photo credit: special arrangement

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Upcoming challenges

The bill allows individuals to voluntarily surrender any captive animal protected by law, without monetary compensation in return, after which the animal becomes the property of the state government. Although this may prevent the arbitrary abandonment or release of these animals by individuals who do not want to bother to register their animals and who fall under the scope of the law and its regulations, the management of these alien species and potentially invasive will require massive capacity building efforts in terms of infrastructure and trained personnel to ensure the welfare of animals in captivity.

In addition to providing physical management of live animals, enforcement authorities may need to adopt a robust digital infrastructure to track and ensure the welfare of lifelong captives. Currently, the Maharashtra Forest Department uses an online system to monitor all temporary and permanent captive Indian wildlife species in zoos, rescue and processing transit centers. Such systems will potentially be needed to effectively manage data, including an animal inventory, registration, deaths and transfers, in order to make optimal use of resources, particularly by state forestry departments such as the West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra which hold a major proportion of exotic wildlife traders.

The bill has yet to be presented to the Rajya Sabha, but as we prepare for the path to gradual change in India’s 75th year of independence, let us take a moment to celebrate the chance that we might have to lay new foundations to secure a better future for native and exotic wildlife, bringing conservation one step closer to our relationship with nature.

Neha Panchamia is founder and president of the RESQ Charitable Trust. She tweets @NehaPanchamia. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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