Abdul Hafiz’s pet shop has seen an increase in visitors looking for exotic (non-indigenous) birds. A young couple is looking for lovebirds at his 40-year-old shop in Zamrudpur. The previous day, a 10-year old came looking for a White Cockatoo as a birthday gift for his grandmother. Other bird shop owners in Moolchand, Adchini and Katwaria Sarai have also witnessed a rise in visitors looking for birds other than the parrots or Indian birds normally kept at homes. “The rich and middle class like keeping these pretty, colourful birds,” said Hafiz.
Cocktail bird, Gold Blue Macaw, the Golden Finch, African Grey Parrot, lovebirds, Hyacinth Macaw and White Cockatoo are some of the exotic birds brought to Delhi and customers from as far as Punjab, Rajasthan and Bihar come to the city to buy these. Shopkeepers say that March is the best time of the year when people buy birds for their homes.
“It is neither too hot nor too cold and the birds are happy too. They do not need much maintenance. Australian Bajri is the most famous as it is colourful as well as affordable,” said Mohammad Mehfooz, owner of Unique pet shop in Adchini.
The cost of a bird starts from Rs 300, the costliest lovebird pair is for Rs 3,000. More rare, hence expensive, birds are ordered on demand. The price of exotic birds can go up to a few lakhs, depending on how endangered they are.
However, the trade of some exotic birds is illegal and wildlife activists have time and again objected to the way these birds are brought to the country and how cruelly these are bred and kept in the shops.
“Cages are kept on roadsides near heavy traffic and the smoke and pollution is not good for the birds. These birds are imported in inhuman conditions. They are brought to the country stuffed in sacks. This is against the law, still these shops are being allowed to operate by the authorities,” said Sonya Ghosh, an activist.
Avian experts say that any animal or bird exposed to unnatural conditions develops zoochosis which is abnormal behavioural patterns observed in captive species. Wire cages with no flooring lead to sores, loss of feathers and fur besides severe malnourishment. Cases of cruelties like large birds being stuffed in small cages, crammed in shoes, de-beaking of birds, malpractices in breeding and no effort to recreate their natural environment by shop owners are in total violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act which bans the trade and trapping of all indigenous birds, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which restricts the trade in foreign birds. Despite the act, a black market in birds openly thrives, involving many of the country’s estimated 1,200 species. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, protects only native Indian birds like Munias, Parakeets, Peacocks, Weaverbirds, Koel, Mynahs and Owls, while exotic birds are commonly trafficked.
To curb tortures, the Animal Welfare Board of India has framed rules for regulating pet shops. The Draft Pet Shop Rules, 2010, said the liberalisation of the economy and increase in purchasing power had given birth to new trades. Among these was the “mushrooming, and yet unregulated pet trade in live animals, that are capable of experiencing discomfiture, pain, hunger and thirst just as humans do. Live animals are exhibited and traded like commodities in pet and pet product shops.”
Legal activists say that these rules meant to ensure the humane handling of birds are far from implementation. Avinash Basker, legal consultant with Wildlife protection Society of India, said, “The legal position on exotic birds is not very clear. With only the scientific family names listed in the wildlife legislation, some birds with non-indigenous origins are not recognised by the forest department and thus they cannot be looked after under the Wildlife Protection Act.”
An SDMC official said most shops operate with permission. “We give closure notices to the ones that are illegal and conduct regular enforcement drives. The fines are very low and there are no updated laws to hold onto. We operate by the old sanitation bylaws and conduct drives under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,” he said.