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Bengal tops in illegal wildlife trade in eastern India, int’l gangs most active

In June alone, as many as six cases of seizure and arrest were registered by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, special task force of West Bengal forest department and local police

kolkata Updated: Jul 21, 2018 19:00 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Wildlife Crime Control Bureau,Directorate of Revenue Intelligence,tokay gecko
A slow loris rescued from smugglers in Kolkata by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), a wing of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change, on June 29, 2018. (WCCB Records)

Trapped inside two compartments of a tiny iron cage and crying in agony, two pied hornbills and a slow loris greeted a team of officers from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) when they raided a house in the crowded Manicktala area of north Kolkata on June 29.

The officers rescued a pair of slow loris, an endangered nocturnal primate, three great Indian hornbills and two pied hornbills, all protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Two men were arrested.

Pied hornbills seized by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in Kolkata in June 2018. (WCCB records)

For the bureau, an arm of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change, the sight inside the Manicktala house did not pose any surprise. In June alone, as many as six cases of seizure and arrest were registered by WCCB, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), special task force (STF) of West Bengal forest department and local police in different parts of Bengal. Many of the species were of foreign origin and smuggled into India because of the hefty price they fetch.

Seizures made in June include different types of hornbill, rosella bird, concure, parakeet, macaw, pygmy falcon, eclectus, duck, hoolock gibbon, tokay gecko and palm squirrel. Ivory, weighing more than 3.5 kg was also seized in June by STF.

Grass Turquoisine Parakeet seized by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence Kolkata in May 2018. (WCCB records)

“Probably it had been the trend for some time but results of increased vigilance indicate that West Bengal has become eastern India’s biggest hub for smugglers dealing in endangered animals and animal parts. Bengal is also used as transit point for smugglers operating between India and neighbouring countries,” said Agni Mitra, deputy director of WCCB’s eastern region that covers 10 states from Bihar to Mizoram.

While it conducts its own operations, WCCB acts as coordinator between different state and Central agencies, including Customs. “Sharing information is crucial. Over the past two years, Borer Security Force (BSF) and Sasashtra Seema Bal (SSB) have also carried out raids with success,” added Mitra.

Government records show that between November 2016 and June 2018, as many as 114 cases have been registered by different enforcement agencies in 10 states in east and north east India. Out of these, Bengal tops the list with 54 cases followed by Assam with 38. Around 15 were registered in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

African pygmy falcons seized by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in June 2018. (HT Photo)

“Some seizures we made in other states also had a Bengal connection. For example, a man from Bengal was involved in smuggling of the ivory that we seized in Assam a few months ago. Bengal seems to have become the centre of this trade,” Deepankar Aron, additional director general, DRI, said in Kolkata. “We have seized many exotic foreign species such as African pigmy falcon and macaw,” added Aron.

Hoolock Gibbons rescued by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Kolkata in May 2018. (WCCB Records)

While Mitra refused to put a commercial value to the animals or parts seized, saying everything was “priceless” as far as the government was concerned, a Customs official in Kolkata said cumulative value of everything seized in the last 18 months could run into hundreds of crores in international market.

“In September 2017, Bengal CID and BSF seized snake venom worth Rs 100 crore from Barasat in North 24 Parganas district. In May 2017, SSB and Customs seized snake venom worth Rs 70 crore from Siliguri,” a senior customs official said on condition of anonymity.

Thousands of Tortoise and turtles seized from a Bangladesh-bound truck in May 2018. (WCCB records)

“Exotic pets have no fixed price. The trade is flourishing because some people will happily splurge on certain birds or moneys,” he added.

“In China, there is a huge demand for animal parts, especially those of the Bengal tiger, because the Chinese believe these have medicinal value. We have seized pangolin scales, tiger parts, sea cucumber, sea horses and even bear bile from different eastern states including Bengal. Since many rhino poachers have been gunned down by forest guards in Assam, Myanmar has now become a source of rhino horn,” said Mitra.

Rescued animals and birds are handed over to zoos but many die while being smuggled. The rest are killed as either these are eaten or their body parts are what smugglers are after.

Six jars of snake venom (on table) recovered by the West Bengal foorest department in December 2017. (WCCB records)

“Some animals face torture too,” said Mitra. “Tokay geckos, for example, are sometimes injected with mercury or get pieces of metal forced into the skin so that they look different. The lizards don’t survive,” said Mitra.

Among Indian species, birds such as parakeets are caught in hundreds only to be sold as pets, officials said. Turtles and tortoise, on the other hand, are caught in even larger numbers, mostly to be sold as food or components of Chinese medicine.

On May 1 this year, BSF recovered 100 kg of semi-dried turtles and tortoise bones from Farakka in Bengal. During the same month, Bengal CID and WCCB seized 2,499 turtles from a truck not far from Kolkata. The haul included 700 dead Indian soft shell turtles. These were allegedly being smuggled to south-east Asian countries through Bangladesh where turtle meat fetches high price.

First Published: Jul 21, 2018 19:00 IST