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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Unkind city clips wild wings

Born free, bound for life. This is the terrible tale of hundreds of parrots caught in the wild, crammed in small cages a stone’s throw from a city police station and often sold at a premium taking advantage of some unsuspecting buyer’s pet passion.

The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 as well as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 ban trading in indigenous birds. But, three aquariums near Sakchi Masjid and police station have been doing brisk business for three years and more.

The birds, mostly captured from Saranda and Dalma forests, bear a price tag between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 — based on the exotic value of the winged victim — at Madras Aquarium, National Aquarium and KK Aquarium. Rabbits are also sold for Rs 300-500. The illegal business continues unabated right under the nose of police who plead ignorance.

According to lawyer and animal rights activist Sujit Sahu, the parrots are tormented into traps using nets and birdlime, an adhesive substance.

“Adult parrots are traded throughout the year, while babies arrive between December and June. For every bird that reaches the illegal market, several others die in transit. In the past fortnight, the number of birds has increased at these aquariums, but not the size of cages. The parrots, many of which belong to endangered species, are being forced to live in terrible conditions, which is also gross violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960),” Sahu said.

According to wildlife experts, many parrot species are on the decline and several are extinct. Of the 350 or so living species, 130 are listed as near threatened or worse by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Sixteen of these are currently considered critically endangered. There are several reasons for the dwindling count of many species, the principal threats being habitat loss, hunting and the bird trade.

The aquariums in the city sell the long-tailed parakeet, which is bracketed as near threatened by IUCN. Other victims such as the Alexandrine parrot and lovebirds may not be as rare, but they are indigenous species and trading in them is nonetheless illegal under the wildlife act.

Sahu said he had brought the matter to the notice of Sakchi police several times, but in vain. “The birds continue to be sold in the open, while law enforcers (read policemen and forest officials) look the other way,” the activist rued.

Sakchi OC Bhola Prasad Singh claimed ignorance though the market is barely 100 metres from his office. “The matter has not been brought to my notice so far. I will have to consult with the DFO before taking any action in this regard,” he said.

Dhalbhum DFO Karma Bhutia admitted that he was aware of the booming market in Sakchi, but seemed confused about what law to enforce. “The selling of wild animals and birds does not come under the cruelty to animals act. But, if the birds or animals are being tortured or kept in difficult conditions, action can be taken. We will look into the matter,” he said.

The owner of one of the three aquariums, not willing to be named, conceded that they had been selling parrots for the last three years and no one ever told them that they were violating the law. “As long as customers buy, we will continue to sell the birds,” he said defiantly. He also denied allegations of cruelty. “We keep parrots in big cages. We advise customers on their diet and upkeep,” he added.