Fashionable, but cruel: Mumbai’s fetish for exotic pets
Siberian Huskies in humid Mumbai, mindless breeding, pets crammed into tiny cages - people are cruel to animals in more ways than we seemumbai Updated: Jun 03, 2017 10:20 IST
Remember when pugs became hugely popular after an ad campaign; or when you just had to own the clownfish that starred in the film Finding Nemo?
Remember, also, then that every time the demand for an exotic species rises, it sets in motion a global racket of catching, smuggling and breeding animals far away from their homes, in cruel conditions. Vets, animal activists and zoologists who spoke to HT said breeding and trade was a serious concern — all sparked by impulsive decisions by people to buy such animals — many of which are endangered — as status symbols, for luck or just to be a part of a passing fad. “For the animal and ecosystem, it spells destruction,” said Meet Ashar, emergency response coordinator, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India.
INDIA, A LEADING MARKET
The exotic pet trade is thriving in India, with people shelling out large sums of money for pocket monkeys from Brazil, black pond turtles from southern Asia, iguanas from South America and the Caribbean and fish from the coral reefs of Indonesia. These wild animals are illegally transported, cruelly bred and then sold at steep rates in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi. “Indigenous birds are caught in the hilly and forested areas of north and northeast India. They are captured in the most horrifying of ways, crammed into boxes and then transported. The birds reach their destinations wounded, frightened and starved, if not dead,” Ashar said. To meet demand, bird-catchers set up nets coated with adhesives to snare the creatures faster. The targets: Muniyas, mynas and parrots, owls, hawks, peacocks and parakeets.
SO, WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
First, some of these species are endemic — that is, they survive only in a limited habitat and removing them from puts them in danger.
Second, most of these exotic species in demand are on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — an inventory of species that are endangered or vulnerable. “We have come across cases where we intercepted parakeets and other exotic birds being transported in water bottles. Nearly 95% of the time, the birds die because they are so restrained,” said another PETA official. Third, the issue of breeding. Two years ago, when the endangered pocket lion monkey was the fad in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, breeders started injecting them with steroids to alter their mating cycle. “The tiny monkeys were forced to breed multiple times a year, because each one sold for at least Rs 3.5 lakh,” said a Pune breeder. He said only some owners would import from Brazil the kind of food the monkeys ate. “Others force-fed them local fruits.”
There are only three dog breeders actually registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India from the state. So, thousands are illegally bred every year,” said a top AWBI official of Maharashtra.
DO-GOODERS WHO DO NO GOOD
Avian expert Chintan Gokhle pointed to the trend of people buying exotic or endangered birds only to release them in the wild . “They consider it a good deed. But the birds have spent a lifetime in captivity, or don’t belong to the habitat in which they are released. They become easy prey for crows and kites and don’t survive even a day,” said Gokhle.
And then, there are those who abandon their pets when they lose interest. Dr Yuvraj Karingker, a veterinarian with the MyVets Charitable Trust, said many don’t realise they could be damaging the entire ecosystem. “Animals need food and a nesting area. When an animal is released, it fights the native species to survive — a fight that wipes out either one or both,” Dr Karingker said. “Small mammals and reptiles can collapse entire ecosystems and cause heavy losses to the species’ diversity if introduced in areas they are not native to,” a recent study by wildlife expert N Soundararajan said. An SC order banned the release of foreign species in national parks. But experts said the implementation of the ban was poor.
People buy animals for luck and sacrifice too. “We bought two turtles because our astrologer told us it will bring us luck and wealth,” said a Borivli resident.
THE SOLUTION THEN?
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 bans the capture and trade of indigenous animals and birds. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, makes it illegal to confine animals in cages that are not sufficiently big . These rules are barely followed. Experts said the problem — and solution — was awareness. Owners need to take a moment to think of how they are torturing animals, the PETA official said.