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For Sale: Why Is Smuggling Of Exotic Birds And Animals Not A Crime Yet?

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Introduction

The article titled ‘Need for Laws to Prevent Smuggling of Exotic Animal Species in India’ dated August 13, 2018, talks about the illegal presence of a wide variety of animal species at different places, varied environments and wide climatic conditions, away from their native biomes. It not only talks about the excruciating extents upto which the presence of such species is causing discomfort and impeding the normal functioning of a society, but also addresses the blatant marketing and trading of these species by unlicensed traders, going by the name of “pet owners”, tagging their “illegal collection of animals” as “wide range of choices for pets” and attracting innocent customers and further pulling everyone into the endless spiral.

The author brings to light how possession of illegal exotic species was normalised among rich households and societies, and putting the misery of these animals was considered to be a thing of pride. She mocks the authorities by glaring into the eyes of the administration and questions their functioning. She mentions how, in a place such as Delhi, “where all lawmakers live,” it is equivalent to doing a daily chore when one wants to “pick up” an exotic species.

She mockingly adds how being in key places in the India does not affect an individual’s deterrence from committing an act that is morally and ethically wrong, but cannot be proven wrong from the lens of Indian lawmakers as no such law exists that criminalizes such an act.

Credit: Getty Images

The author highlights how this is not only a violation of national and international guidelines such as the CITES and Indian legislations such as Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This act is also disbalancing the ecological cycle by displacing the varied species of flora and fauna from their respective natural habitats. The article was a call for an urgent need for rules for exotic species and the regulation of licenses for the same. The author provoked the authorities to act on it and criminalise the offence of illegal importing of exotic species in India.

Year 2020 – A Positive Turn For Exotic Species?

Moving into the year 2020, in which the Indian administration not only made progress in leaps and bounds, but also actively battled the pandemic while bringing back the pace of its normal functioning, an article titled ‘Covid-19: India Must Act Quickly to Open the Eyes of Its Laws to Exotic Species’ elucidates how the pandemic, which initially started off as a virulently spreading disease perceived to have originated from animals, has brought attention to the fragile and permeable framework that India has adopted when it comes to import and possession of exotic live species, which was as good as non-existent.

The article not only discusses how narrow the scope of the previously existing legislations was, but also brings to light the applausable effort of the Union Environment Ministry aimed at streamlining and formalising the exhaustive process of importing exotic species, which draws a firm boundary for the same. The article highlights how there was a dire need of such an advisory, directing and regulating the entire process and keeping a check on all the platforms illegally importing exotic species. It goes on to deeply explain and critically analyse the articulate protocol by the advisory.

Issues Highlighted

While the article highlights the dire need of such an advisory and deeply explains the implementation of the same, it also brings to light certain downsides to the rules outlined. It brings out the fact that the advisory restricts itself only to the species mentioned in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and deriving the definition of “Exotic Species” from CITES brings a meagre number of species under its ambit, thereby making the purview of the advisory very narrow.

This implies that the advisory would fail to address the challenge of safeguarding all the exotic species, subsequently pushing illegal traders to further expand their access to various species. This expansion of access would not only render the advisory meaningless, but also prove to be fatal for biodiversity.

The second issue rightly highlighted by the article in mention brings forth a debate that not only addresses the loopholes in due process from a legal perspective, but points towards major challenges from the biological standpoint as well. It talks about how the advisory conveniently dodged the possibility of prevailing threats of bringing an exotic species to a completely different environment, thereby opening the floodgates to possible threats like exotic animals turning into invasive species and spreading zoonotic diseases.

It has been claimed that invasive species are serious menace to the ecosystem and the economy in the introduced regions. Moreover, all countries now encounter problems of biological invasions and devising effective strategies and there is a need for control measures for curtailing the new invasion episodes and mitigating the negative impacts posed by these exotic invaders. Thus, the issue of potential biological hazards cannot be ignored as it would not just bring forth the blatant ignorance of the administration, but might also have some serious impacts that can prove to be a challenge before us all.

While it is illegal to have green parrots as pets, it is legal to keep exotic birds as pets in India.

The third issue of concern brought forth by the article was the failure of the advisory in mentioning the welfare standards to be adhered to while arranging for captive facilities for the exotic species. The article in  mention claims that the regulations and procedures under the advisory were highly ambiguous in nature. It must be emphasised upon the fact that a sudden shift in environment puts exotic species under a lot of physical stress, which later reflects in long-term ailments and infertility in certain cases.

Personal Analysis

While the article sufficiently explains the subject matter from a layman’s perspective, it is imperative to dive into the intricacies of the document discussed and bring out the positives and negatives for a deeper understanding. The document titled ‘Advisory for dealing with import of exotic live species in India and declaration of stock’ was released by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change with the aim to streamline the process for import and possession of exotic live species in India.

With a total of four broad targets to be achieved (which are development of an inventory for exotic live species in India, putting down a procedure for import of exotic species, registration of progenies of such imported exotic species and declaring a platform in case of dispute), the advisory intricately guides us through each target by setting down a strong foundation of procedures to be followed for each aim.

While the procedures for the first two aims are outlined properly, the third clause (Registration of progenies of imported animals) is observed to be slightly vague, as I believe that the advisory should have given certain instructions or guidelines about the procedures of be followed for the process of the breeding of such exotic species, before declaring the norms for registration of their progenies.

Looking at it from a comparative perspective, a very famous TV show from the 90s featured a monkey named ‘Marcel’, who turned out to be an illegal exotic animal. A character in the show has the monkey as his pet until authorities show up. We all enjoyed it when the monkey was not taken away. but if we move to the reality and in India, a similar situation where a person raises an exotic animal as a pet would not attract any authorities as per the existing laws.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, came forth with the aim to protect wild animals for the ecological and environmental security of the country. But one of the biggest concerns that is not addressed by the act is the protection of exotic species and the smuggling of the same into the country.

The Indian law does not define the term “exotic species” or “exotic pets”, which becomes the first because clarification of what a term means is pertinent before addressing the big picture since such a definition would make nature and scope of what falls under the ambit becomes clear. “Pet animals” are defined in Section 2 (j) of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2016, which includes well-known domestic animals like dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbit, guinea pig, rodents of the rats or mice category and captive birds. This definition also includes animals such as Macaws, fox squirrels, iguanas etc., which are all imported to India. While it is illegal to have green parrots as pets, it is legal to keep exotic birds as pets in India.

A quick google search shows multiple webpages that offer exotic birds and animals for sale, ranging from snakes, toucans to pet reptiles and more. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, provides protection only to those animals and birds mentioned in its schedules. It doesn’t include any exotic species whatsoever. While there are online petitions around the world to save African grey parrots, people in India can buy them online from the comfort of their homes.

Traders, instead of being afraid of authorities, are posting pictures of these exotic species along with famous celebrities. All these issues trace back to the act mentioned above and its blind eye towards the species coming from abroad. Section 2 (5) of the act defines captive animals to be animals who are specified in the four schedules within the act and that are captured or kept or bred in captivity.

“Pet animals” are defined in Section 2 (j) of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2016, which includes well-known domestic animals like dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbit, guinea pig, rodents of the rats or mice category and captive birds. Credit: Getty Images

It is important to note that none of the animals in the schedules are exotic. Section 2 (36) defines wild animals but again includes only the ones mentioned in the four schedules of the act. This clearly denies any sort of attention towards the exotic species that technically does not become illegal to perform trade activities. This is a huge loophole that is being exploited immensely by animal traders in the country. Recently, Animal Welfare Board of India has written to the IT ministry, notifying about the sale of animals being carried on unregistered websites.

If one studies both the articles from a bird’s eye view and analyses the intricacies and managerial decisions behind each move, it not only highlights how the administration has been successful in identifying the issues prevalent in the society, but also the innovative steps it took to find a practical solution to the problem in contemporary times. The addressing of issues at such a deep level could only be made possible by the robustness of the research groups and active journalism, ensuring that each and every issue of concern is taken to the authorities in an informed and formalised manner.

While one may argue that the Indian administration, along with the concerned Ministries, has come a long way in drafting the advisory and launching it specially in these times of turbulence. The Opposition might claim that reports prove how obtuse and lethargic the Environment Ministry is, as it has not just failed to acknowledge a crime, but also failed to bring about an effective policy, which dictates a clear path of actions to be followed and also creates sufficient deterrence in minds of the offenders, encouraging them to steer clear of such acts.

Conclusion

While one must applaud the efforts of the Environment Ministry in rolling out an advisory regarding an issue glaring right into the eyes of the Indian administration, it is essential to point out that the advisory not only has a narrow scope of functioning, but can also use certain amendments when it comes to implementing a policy on an issue that has been the centre of public attraction since a while. Protection of exotic species should not only be ensured upto a level that promises positive results in trade, but the minimum standards of due diligence for such species should be raised to a level which keeps the species healthy and hearty.

Another issue of consideration is how the mass transfer of such species (whether legal or illegal) affects no only the animals in transit but also the environment they are shifting to. Intermixing of foreign genes and exposure of certain traits to an alien environment may not yield the best results. Thus, these issues should always be kept in mind when framing regulations for processes which include fiddling with the natural order of biological activities.

When it comes to satisfying the minimum standards of precautions to be taken for such an act, the advisory did justice to the cause and brought out fine amalgamation of Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (Wildlife Division), Ministry of Foreign Trade and Departments of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairying.

Featured image credit: PETA

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