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Insect heist: Arrested Czech traded on web

Petr Svacha (51) and Emil Kucera (53) were caught on June 22 with over 200 beetles, butterflies and other insects and were remanded to judicial custody.
By Jay Mazoomdaar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 11, 2008 02:35 AM IST

As international and domestic pressure mounts on the West Bengal forest department to release the Czech duo arrested for illegally collecting a large number of endangered insects from Singalila National Park in Darjeeling district, Hindustan Times has tracked one of them, as a self-proclaimed trader in insects.

Petr Svacha (51) and Emil Kucera (53) were caught on June 22 with over 200 beetles, butterflies and other insects and were remanded to judicial custody. On July 5, around 600 international and Indian researchers petitioned the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the West Bengal Chief Minister to release Svacha, an entomologist of repute, and his friend.

While Svacha is indeed a senior scientist at the institute of entomology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, his companion Kucera has a history of wildlife trading. His web site — coleoptera-kucera.com — was shut down soon after he and Svacha were arrested. But Hindustan Times has web pages from the site where Kucera offered to sell beetles (coleoptera) by post.

Under Emil Kucera’s name, Czech address and phone number (+420-381-522776), the website claimed: “I’m offer (sic) insects (Coleoptera) from palearct region (mainly from China). Contact e-mail coleoptera.kucera@quick.cz. Insects I can send by post.”

Meanwhile, the petition claims the Czech duo moved unknowingly inside protected areas, their collection was meant for research and did not include endangered samples or anything of commercial value. But the haul included endangered butterflies and other valuable specimens. Tiger beetles, for example, are used for medicines in the Far East and South America and can fetch as much as $200 a piece.

“It is not only ethical but also a pre-requisite for a scientist to approach the authorities for permission before proceeding for any collection. If Svacha and Kucera are such renowned researchers, it is surprising that they did not know or chose to ignore the basic guidelines,” said Sumita Ghatak, Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife Division I, Darjeeling.

Svacha and Kucera have been charged under Sections 27 — entry without permission to protected areas — and Section 29 — removal of wildlife without permission from the chief wildlife warden — of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

On Wednesday, a special hearing at Darjeeling rejected the bail petition moved by the duo and slated the next hearing for July 21.

If the court finds the accused guilty, the penalty could be a minimum imprisonment of three years and a fine.

Mazoomdaar is an independent journalist

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