Wild exotic pets are not glamorous. Start by amending the Wildlife Act

A A few years ago, the senior editor of a well-known lifestyle magazine walked down the ramp of a fashion show at a 5-star hotel in Pune, displaying a live pygmy tamarin (toe monkey) stuffed in his coat pocket. He made the ladies swoon over him all night, admiring the little primate who sat very still. Several asked him where they could buy one for his son or family. What they didn’t realize was that the friendly and well-behaved little monkey, who is not originally from India, was possibly stressed and mortified by the bright lights and loud music of the fashion show party he had to bear all night.

Watching one of the videos that emerged from the party, I was enraged because a display like this is exactly what encourages people to buy a non-native wild animal as an exotic pet that looks convenient and carries a ‘cool’ quotient.

Over the years, the fashionable options for keeping pets in India have changed dramatically. While dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs remain popular pets for families and children, keeping exotic wildlife such as ball pythons, corn snakes, iguanas, macaws, parakeets, turtles, lemurs, pygmy marmosets and gliders Sugar has emerged as a popular choice among young adults or people who want to ‘make a statement’ by owning a ‘wild’ pet.

In more recent news, it reads from kangaroos being rescued from the outskirts of a city in North Bengal, orangutans being smuggled and disappearing into mumbai cityand reports from Pune district on the arrest of merchants on moving trains by the Railway Police Force while illegally smuggling 1,200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises stuffed inside a small suitcase.

    A pygmy marmoset paraded at a fashion event as a pocket square in Pune.
A pygmy marmoset paraded at a fashion event as a pocket square in Pune.

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Exotic Wild Animal Buyers

“Owning exotic wild animals as pets is legal in India if you have supporting paperworkHowever, internal regulation of rampant trade and transportation is non-existent. Large sums of money are paid to acquire these pets, and thus the growing demand is met by horrific acts of poaching in the wild, smuggling, or illegal breeding, followed by the incomprehensible trauma these animals go through in transit. and transportation,” says Sumanth Bindumadhav. , Senior Manager, Wildlife, Disaster Response and Dharwad Program, Humane Society International/India. “The ordeal for them does not end at the point of sale, as they are often doomed to a life of unnatural conditions devoid of any form of animal welfare.”

In addition to animal suffering, the wildlife trade poses significant risks to biodiversity and disease transmission. It is the fourth largest organized and illicit transnational crime after drugs, weapons and human trafficking, which has undeniably been traced to fuel terrorist activities and threats to national security.

    Collage of images from e-commerce sites, WhatsApp group chats and WhatsApp status messages where endemic and exotic wild animals are offered for sale.  These groups are created primarily for dog breeders, but invariably also house various people involved in the breeding and sale of wild animals.
Collage of images from e-commerce sites, WhatsApp group chats and WhatsApp status messages where endemic and exotic wild animals are offered for sale. These groups are created primarily for dog breeders, but invariably also house various people involved in the breeding and sale of wild animals.

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New bill: a gaping hole waiting to be filled

Since 1976, India is one of the 180 countries that signed the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international agreement between governments that aims to regulate international trade in flora and fauna so that they are not driven to extinction. While we have made significant contributions and represented various interventions for global species conservation at the CITES Conference of Parties, the failure to regulate domestic trade and ownership within India is a paradox we have lived with for more than 40 years old.

The new Wildlife Amendment (Protection) Bill 2021 passed by the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2022, finally signals progressive change for India’s biodiversity and protection from the multiple threats posed by trade and ownership of exotic wildlife.

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There are several key changes in the law, but the one I welcome the most is the inclusion of a section on the implementation of CITES in India and a dedicated Program for CITES Appendices I, II and III listed species.

When the treaty was signed in 1976, the Director of Wildlife Preservation, GoI, was appointed as the main managing authority for CITES in India. The bill requires the central government to appoint a management authority and spells out responsibilities such as issuing permits for the import and export of specimens, regulating domestic trade and transfer, and issuing registration certificates to individuals who possess live specimens mentioned in the Annex. . It also includes the appointment of the scientific authority through the designation of one or more institutes dedicated to the research of different species to provide guidance on issues related to the specimens that are traded.

The bill, essential to combat the damage suffered over the years and grant the power to make corrections to the disturbances caused in the natural ecological balance, also gives the central government the control to prohibit the import, trade or possession of invasive alien (or foreign) species. ) species, which refers to any plant or animal that is not native to India and has been shown to have a negative influence on its wildlife or environment. In such cases, the central government may give official permission to confiscate and remove invasive species.

“The proposed bill has significantly increased and doubled the general fines for violations from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1,00,000, which may also help increase fear of consequences for wrongdoers and boost the implementation of the (Protection of ) of the Wildlife Act of 1972 and its subsequent amendments. says Bindumadhav.

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1,200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises discovered by the Pune District Railway Police.  They were crammed into boxes and bags of vegetables to be transported in a small suitcase.  |  Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
1,200 iguanas and 300 African sulcata tortoises discovered by the Pune District Railway Police. They were crammed into boxes and bags of vegetables to be transported in a small suitcase. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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challenges ahead

The bill allows people to voluntarily surrender any captive animal protected by law, without monetary compensation in return, after which the animal becomes the property of the state government. While this may prevent the arbitrary abandonment or release of these animals by people who do not want to go to the trouble of registering their animals and coming under the purview of the law and its regulations, the management of these exotic and potentially invasive species is a require massive capacity building efforts in terms of infrastructure and trained personnel to ensure the welfare of animals in captivity.

In addition to providing physical handling of live animals, implementing authorities may need to adopt a robust digital infrastructure to track and ensure the welfare of captives for life. Currently, the Maharashtra forestry department uses an online system to monitor all temporary and permanent captive Indian wildlife in zoos, transit rescue and treatment centres. Such systems will potentially be needed to effectively manage data, including animal inventory, registration, deaths and transfers, in order to use resources optimally, especially by forestry departments in states such as West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra which have a higher proportion of exotic wildlife traders.

The bill has yet to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, but as we prepare for the path of progressive change in India’s 75th year of independence, let us take a moment to celebrate the opportunity we have to lay new foundations to ensure a better future for both native and exotic wildlife, bringing us one step closer to conserving our relationship with nature.

Neha Panchamia is founder and chair of the RESQ Charitable Trust. She tweets @NehaPanchamia. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)