The Mumbai civic body wants a replacement for Dory, the Humboldt Penguin that died on Sunday, but this is likely to take time.
Officials from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), a central government statutory body to fight organised wildlife crime in India, told HT they visited the Byculla Zoo on Tuesday to talk to the authorities about how lengthy the process to import another penguin will be., as this would need approvals from the Centre and state.
The officials also checked the upkeep of the other seven penguins brought from Seoul in South Korea.
On Monday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had blamed the private agency that brought the penguins and sought a replacement. “We told the zoo authorities they cannot get another penguin without valid documentation,” said M Maranko, regional director, WCCB.
He added the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — an international agreement between governments of 175 countries including India — requires the BMC to get a no-objection-certificate (NOC) from the chief wildlife warden, Maharashtra state forest department, the union environment ministry and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).
“After the environment ministry clears the plan, the recommendation will be submitted to the director general of Foreign Trade with the Ministry of Commerce. A similar procedure will be carried out in South Korea,” said Maranko. “Only after we receive all clearances will we allow the import of another penguin.”
Experts also said the CITES law is strictly monitored internationally, especially after cases of incidents during cross-country wildlife trade. “There have been some cases where countries acquiring new animals have, on purpose, infected a small number and demanded a replacement of all animals as per the initial agreement. CITES stops this from happening,” said Jose Louies, head of trade control, Wildlife Trust of India. “Hypothetically, if another eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla zoo, which is in a shambles, it would be a catastrophe.”
WCCB officials, however, said on checking penguins from outside the quarantined area, they appeared to be healthy. “We don’t know if the infection has been passed on to the other penguins, but they seem cheerful,” said Maranko.
City zoo officials called it a routine check. “The remaining seven penguins are fine and we will follow the procedure,” said Dr Sanjay Tripathi, director, Byculla Zoo.
Meanwhile, in a bid to stop the procurement of another penguin, city-based NGO Plants and Animals Welfare Society - Mumbai (PAWS) wrote to the CZA on Monday and will write to the state chief wildlife warden about Dory’s death. “Before any clarity on whether other penguins are infected, BMC wants to ‘replace’ the penguin that died. The central government needs to look into the matter seriously,” said Sunish Sumbramaniam Kunju, secretary, PAWS.
CZA had warned Byculla Zoo about getting penguins to India in 2014
After activists had strongly protested against the idea of importing Humboldt penguins in 2014, the Central Zoo Authority wrote to activists and the zoo that the proposal was not advisable. “In a technical committee meeting of the Central Zoo Authority, it was intimated the proposal to acquire penguins by the Byculla Zoo was not advisable from the point of view of animal welfare issues, negative publicity, economics and difficulty in creating naturalistic conditions and experts need to be consulted,” read the document signed by Inder Dhamija, the then deputy inspector general, CZA.