The illegal trade in wild animals has expanded to include exotic species being sold as pets. Boom Live visits Mumbai’s Crawford Market—an old hub for the purchase and sale of exotic animals. The continued existence of the market is proof that the implementation of India’s Wildlife Protection Act is far from satisfactory and is in fact a brazen statement of apathy of the administration towards the animals.
Iguana, black squirrel, Singaporean turtle, parakeet and more—this isn’t Mumbai’s iconic Jijabai Udyan (zoo). This is the sight one would see if you take a walk in the by-lanes of South Mumbai’s Crawford Market. Everything from the smallest reptile to a full-grown tiger can be sold for the right price, according to vendors here. Mumbai has a thriving illegal exotic-animal trade with vendors even going online to show case their wares. An Iguana can be found on OLX.com for Rs. 15,000. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that infant animals are the most desirable and earn dealers the largest profits.
Inside the illegal wildlife Trade
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the exotic pet trade is a multi-billion dollar global industry as it has emerged as a form of organised transnational crime. In India, it includes diverse products including mongoose hair; snake skins; Rhino horn; Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers; Elephant tusks; deer antlers; shahtoosh shawl; turtle shells; musk pods; bear bile; medicinal plants; timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias etc. A large part of this trade is meant for the international market and has no direct demand in India.
However, the illegal trade in non-charismatic species such as pangolins, monitor lizards, Tokay Gecko, turtles and tortoises, lorises, birds, corals, sea cucumbers and others exists and continues to thrive in India. According to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, trade in over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivative is prohibited. But, as there is little knowledge and understanding about the population status, numbers poached, illegal wildlife trade hubs and dynamics of these non-charismatic species, it is difficult to ascertain the impacts of illegal trade on the population status of many of the captured animals.
Dr. Shekhar Kumar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC in India, says, “Every year in India, hundreds of pangolins, lizards and tortoises are poached, an estimated 7,00,000 birds are illegally trapped, and several tonnes of sea cucumbers are caught, yet the levels of exploitation of these species are rarely reported. This large-scale exploitation along with minimal information about their population status and poaching and smuggling trends places the future of these lesser known species in serious jeopardy.”
Although baby animals might be cute and easy to maintain, they usually grow into dangerous adults with unmanageable needs. The Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW) explains that many exotic animals will travel several miles a day in the wild, so life in a domestic environment isn’t going to satisfy their natural desires. Additionally, as exotic animals grow, their needs for food and space increase—sometimes astronomically. When it gets to that stage, the once-loved pets often end up in cages where they are neglected or abused. The SPCA Animal Hospital, Thane reports that it’s not unusual for exotic pets to be malnourished and stressed; they also tend to develop behavioural issues that can lead to aggressive behaviour and attacks on the handlers.
Owning an exotic pet comes with some real health implications, too. According to the RAWW, exotic pets like monkeys and African rodents often carry viruses like herpes B, monkey pox and rabies, all of which are highly infectious and potentially fatal to humans, especially children aged below five.
KP Singh, chief conservator of the forest department, Thane says that there have been 699 cases of crime against wildlife reported in the past year alone. He says, “Curbing this illegal trade of exotic pets and wild animals is our constant goal. Recently, the rescued 335 soft-shelled water turtles were flown back to their natural habitat in Lucknow and rehabilitated in their ponds on the World Turtle Day on May 23. We have to be spread more awareness and take strict action against such illegal traders.”
Jungle Rules and Protections
There are several laws that prohibit the selling and interstate transfer of protected wild animals in India. These include the The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Last amended in 2006), The Indian Forest Act (1927) and Forest Acts of State Governments, The Forest Conservation Act (1980), The Environment (Protection) Act (1986), The Biological Diversity Act (2002), National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016).
Additionally, India has restrictions on the ownership of exotic pets. According to the forest department, laws can vary greatly from state to state and can range from total bans to simply requiring a permit depending on the conservation status of the animals. Globally, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna regulates the import and export of endangered species.
However, despite these laws and humanitarian efforts, the exotic pet trade is still a booming business.