KK Aquarium in Jamshedpur, which faced the forest department crackdown on Tuesday morning, sells only rabbits and exotic birds in the afternoon. Picture by Bhola Prasad
The sky is your kingdom
So soar little free bird…
With almost poetic promptness, forest officials on Tuesday freed 200 parrots — many of them classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — from crammed cages at three pet shops in Jamshedpur.
The express action followed a report published in The Telegraph highlighting how indigenous wildlife was being tormented, trapped and sold at a premium to satisfy the pet passion of unsuspecting customers for more than three years.
A three-member forest department team — led by Mango range officer Debashish Prasad and comprising forest guard Budhdev and another member of staff Pramod Kumar — raided Madras Aquarium, KK Aquarium and National Aquarium, near Jama Masjid and Sakchi police station, from 8am.
Owners were forced to release the birds and warned of stringent action, including a jail term, if they violated the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) in the future. A forest committee is also on the anvil to check resumption of the illegal trade.
Dhalbhum divisional forest officer Karma Bhutia said they had deliberately kept the raid a closely guarded secret because they wanted to catch the shop owners red-handed.
“I directed the Mango range officer to verify the report in The Telegraph and take necessary action. The illegal bird trade had not been brought to my attention earlier before the media intervention. The parrots were freed after pet shop owners failed to satisfy queries of the team,” he added.
According to Bhutia, the raid team asked the shops to justify the source of the birds and they fumbled for answers. They were also unable to produce valid licences, issued by the wildlife board, for selling indigenous birds.
“So, the parrots were released in the presence of the three-member forest team and a warning was issued to the shop owners. They will be punished under provisions of the wildlife act if they are caught again,” the DFO said, adding that a second-time offender would invite a minimum imprisonment of two years.
However, lovebirds and munias were not released during the raid. “These are exotic species and there is no restriction on their sale under the wildlife act. We also did not free the rabbits because they were found to be farm-bred and come under domestic animal category (not wildlife),” Bhutia explained.
Lawyer Sujit Sahu, who had first alerted The Telegraph on the illegal bird trade, however, remained sceptical about the forest department’s proactive role.
“I am glad the parrots have been released. But, I still doubt the sincerity of the drive. Bird traders usually lie low for a while, but then they are back in business. The forest department should develop a mechanism to end illegal trade once and for all,” Sahu, also an animal rights activist, said.
He pointed out that in August 2011, then DFO A.T. Mishra had conducted two raids in the same area in Sakchi. “But, the trade has not stopped, has it?” he said.
The forest department, on the other hand, claims it has learnt its lesson well. “We have set up a committee, which will conduct random raids every week to ensure that the illegal bird trade does not resume,” Bhutia said.
What defiant pet shop owners said, however, vindicated Sahu’s fears. “Forest department kya karti hai dekh lete hai (We will see what the forest department can do). Just tell us when you want a parrot, we will deliver your order,” said an official of KK Aquarium, preferring anonymity.
Can a forest committee stem the illegal bird trade?