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Amid suspected Wuhan wet market link, Centre issues rules for import, possession of exotic species

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 11, 2020 12:44 AM IST

The wildlife division of the Union environment ministry has issued rules for dealing with the import of exotic species and will assess the existing scale of possession within the country.

The Centre intends to streamline the process by officially identifying those handling such species or involved in their legal trade, as per mandates of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which India is a signatory to.

Exotic live species are both plants and animals that are moved from their source (original) habitat to a new one due to human intervention.

The decision comes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, its suggested linkage with wet markets in China, and the zoonotic factor, said Soumitra Dasgupta, inspector general of forests (wildlife), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). He added that the advisory, a copy of which HT has, is yet to be officially released to the public.

“There are many reasons for creating these guidelines but the Covid-19 pandemic is the primary one. So far there was no mechanism to regulate this, with the chief wildlife wardens (from different states) not in the loop. Things were haphazard,” said Dasgupta. “We are now trying to develop a mechanism wherein genuine importers do not suffer and all levels of the government machinery are aware of the exotic species present in their jurisdiction. This will also allow us an overall control over the possible zoonotic disease transmissions,” he added.

The advisory highlights a period of six months (from the date of the official order) to be given for voluntary disclosure for persons in possession of exotic live species in India. The disclosure needs to be made before the chief wildlife warden of each state.

“Forest officials will physically verify the submissions, check whether the facilities where the species are being housed are safe, and issue online certificates to owners within another six months from the date of disclosure,” said another senior MoEFCC official. “State chief wildlife wardens have been given the power to take action as they see fit for any violations.”

For import of live exotic species, a license needs to be obtained from the Director-General of Foreign Trade along with a no-objection certificate from the chief wildlife warden of the respective state.

“Those intending to import have to obtain a health certificate from the national health agency of the country of origin from where the species is being brought, indicating that they are free from any diseases, and also carry health cards for each exotic species being imported,” the official said, adding that concerned authorities need to take note of submissions, ensure the safety of species, and avoid contact or breeding with any indigenous species.

Prescribed formats for all processes will be provided in the Centre’s final order, and details will be made public on the ministry’s online portal - Parivesh.

Experts said this is a welcome step towards curbing illegal exotic wildlife trade in India. “These regulations will act as deterrents for both, buyers and sellers. We hope more measures follow which further help strengthen these regulations,” said Jose Louies, deputy director and chief of the wildlife crime control division at Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

Dr Neil D’Cruze, head (wildlife research), UK-based group World Animal Protection, said, “Covid-19 is understandably bringing the import of wild animals for commercial purposes under increasing scrutiny. Any steps to improve information on exotic species imported into India should be welcomed. However, there will always be some degree of risk, both, to animal welfare and public health, when non-native species are imported.”

Others said the regulations were needed long ago. “Some non-license holders may have been misusing this trade channel for a long time. It is long overdue that we needed to be aware of the source of exotic species being brought to cities without any safeguards, that may have a potential health threat,” said Ravi Singh, secretary-general and chief executive officer, WWF-India.

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