The city, which was a well-known hub for illegal wildlife trade in the early the 90s, while dealing with ivory poaching and tiger skin for the south-east Asian countries, is now a two-way destination for export and import of exotic wildlife like Marmoset, Iguanas, rare snakes, endangered marine and birdlife.
According to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Chennai and Traffic India, wildlife trade monitoring sources, Chennai is now a notorious hub for import and export of banned wildlife produce running in multiple crores of rupees. The situation is such that once in a fortnight there is a wildlife crime reported in the city with the overseas network.
“In terms of value, red sanders is the number one wildlife trade followed by the import of wildlife as pet animals from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nepal and Malaysia. The illegal pet trade promoted by the elite has become an additional headache for the enforcing authorities,” said T Uma, deputy director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, southern region. The cost of these illegal pets imported run into several lakhs and the offenders are elite who spend money in lakhs to acquire these animals.
Consequently, the incidence of poaching of wild animals has reduced in the State, but the import of wildlife as pets is soaring. Currently, the cases are booked under the Customs and PCA Act and WCCB takes steps to deport the foreign animals scheduled under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Uma explained that the powerful Wildlife Protection Act 1972 cannot be imposed for the foreign wildlife. “There is a need for more awareness to ban the import of these exotic animals as there is a threat that these animals can bring in zoonotic infections and dreaded viruses into TN,” rued the WCCB official. “Elite customers are spending up to Rs 10 to 20 lakh to possess these prized animals. The case of smuggled leopard cub last year is a classic example and till date, there is no clue about the cost and the network involved in this trade,” said a forest official. Last year a man based in Mannady had spent Rs 8 lakh to smuggle a hyacinth Macaw. Then there are fish breeders importing arowanas costing up to Rs 2 lakh, the source said.
In the case of illegal exports, red sanders, shark fins, mongoose, pangolin, star tortoise, sea cucumber is smuggled out from south India via Chennai, said Traffic India sources dealing with illegal wildlife trade investigations in south India.
Meanwhile to cope up with the increasing wildlife crime Advanced Institute of Wildlife Conservation at Vandalur had revised its training syllabus owing to the changing pattern in poaching and the import of exotic species by the air passengers.