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Record rescue of wildlife

The forest and wildlife department has rescued more than 1,000 animals and birds and arrested around 70 people in and around the city over the past year. Officials dubbed both figures “the highest in 10 years”.

There was no rescue or arrest in 2012-13. In the preceding year, six people were arrested and less than 200 birds and animals were rescued. In 2008-09, nine people were arrested in seven raids and less than 150 animals and birds were rescued.

“Between April 1, 2013, and February 28 this year, we conducted more than 45 raids in the city and its surroundings and rescued animals and birds being smuggled in or out,” said an official of the wildlife department. The figures are from an internal report of the department.

The rise in the rescue count has brought into focus the thriving trade in wildlife in and around Calcutta.

Activists and NGOs dealing with conservation of wild animals linked the rise in smuggling to a spurt in the demand for birds and animal parts in domestic and international markets.

“Earlier, we used to think that only big animals like elephants and tigers are poached for their parts. But in the international market the demand for body parts of other animals is picking up, too. This is responsible for the spurt in wildlife smuggling,” said Shakti Ranjan Banerjee, the honorary director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

The new trend in wildlife smuggling reflects in the animals and birds rescued over the past year.

Between April 1, 2013, and February 28, officials seized 63 corals, of which 44 were dead. Corals are believed to have medicinal values.

Also rescued were three geckos, 14 Indian softshell turtles, 206 terrapins, 335 parakeets, 407 munias, and many mynas, shikras and hornbills.

Officials also seized 1,392 brushes made of mongoose hair and 9,046g of mongoose hair. “The demand for mongoose hair has put the species at risk,” said the official.

The demand for birds, especially exotic ones, as pets also seems to be increasing. “The rarer the species, the greater is the demand. Smuggling is getting a boost as people are willing to pay high prices,” the official said.

Calcutta and its adjoining areas have emerged as a preferred transit point for transportation of prohibited animals. Last month, forest and wildlife department officials had rescued 5,000 endangered Indian Softshell Turtles from near the India-Bangladesh border in North 24-Parganas. “Had they not been rescued, the turtles would have eventually reached China via Bangladesh where turtle meat is a delicacy,” the official said.

One of the biggest successes of the wildlife department in recent times was the rescue of three chimpanzees and five marmosets from a house in Baguiati in January. A week later 250 birds were rescued from the same house.