The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) of India has arrested two persons involved in an alleged wildlife smuggling syndicate and seized a consignment of 22 exotic macaws.
The birds had been smuggled from Bangladesh to Kolkata and were being brought to Bengaluru, The Print reported.
According to a DRI official, the consignment of birds that were crammed into cages was smuggled through Bongon area near the India-Bangladesh border and intercepted at the Kolkata airport Sunday.
"This was a joint operation with the Wild Life Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and active co-operation of the Customs Department at the Kolkata airport. We identified and intercepted the consignment at Air Cargo of NSCBI Airport, Kolkata. It was on its way to Bengaluru," the official said.
The recovered birds have now been handed over to the Zoological Garden at Alipore in Kolkata.
According to the officer quoted above, both accused are "well educated" and residents of Kolkata. The men knew these were exotic and "highly endangered birds" that had been smuggled from the India-Bangladesh border without legitimate documents.
"They both appear to have been misled into this illegal wildlife trade, which puts endangered species of fauna at risk of extinction. Apart from the risk of an ecological disaster that this kind of smuggling entails, increasingly, these can also pose as significant health hazards, as they are potential harbingers of zoonotic diseases," the officer added.
The birds were identified as Hyacinth Macaw, Pesquet's Parrot, Severe Macaw and Hahn's Macaw.
"They are all protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), with Hyacinth Macaw being accorded the highest protection and listed under Appendix I. Protection under CITES implies ban in global and domestic trade of the species," the officer said.
All the birds were seized under provisions of the Customs Act and Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. Offences under these laws are punishable with a sentence of up to seven years of imprisonment.
'Wildlife trade fourth largest transnational organised crime'
The officer also said illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational organised crime across the world, after narcotics, counterfeit goods and human trafficking.
"There is an unfortunate and increasing trend of smuggling endangered and exotic fauna from different parts of the world into India," the officer said. "It appears that the illegal demand is driven by the human greed to have such wild life as exotic pets in the farmhouses of the eventual clients."
He also said trafficking of species listed under CITES was a violation of the Foreign Trade Policy Provisions since India is one of the signatories in the treaty. "Consequently, the trafficking becomes an offense under provisions of the Customs Act, wherein, violation of any law during the course of a cross-border movement makes the goods liable for confiscation."
Macaws 'an unfortunate favourite' among smugglers
A second DRI officer said smuggling of animals is particularly seen via West Bengal and parts of Northeast India due to their borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar, along with a proximity to Thailand.
The officer also said that macaws were "an unfortunate favourite" of the smuggling syndicates.
"Some of the species that have been seized in the past are black-and-white ruffed lemur (critically endangered species, that is endemic to the island of Madagascar and listed under CITES, Appendix I) and the hollock gibbon," he said.
"Palm civets, Indian star tortoises, exotic birds of foreign-origin, including rosellas, nandin conures, peach fronted conures, grass parakeets and maroon-tailed conures have also been seized," added the officer.
Scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws, eclectus parrots, pygmy falcons, mandarin ducks, kookaburras (kingfishers), java sparrows, star finches, gouldian finches, cockatiels and aracaris too have been seized by the DRI in the past.
"There is an urgent need to step up the fight against wild life crimes, which have clear environmental, social and economic impacts," the officer added.
"Many of the international syndicates operating in the arena of wild life crime use the same supply chains for various other transnational criminal activities too, such as trafficking of drugs, commercial goods involving import-export violations and even arms and ammunition. These chains need to be identified and broken," he said.