Context:

  • Experts observe that Kolkata, and West Bengal, have for the past several years been a hub for the trade in Indian wild birds.

Background:

  • 1991: After a 1991 amendment to the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, except for the house crow (Corvussplendens), which is listed as vermin, no Indian bird can be hunted, trapped, caged or traded.
  • 1992:Over the course of studies on the Indian bird trade since 1992 it has been recorded that 23 species of wild birds are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ‘Red List of Threatened Birds’
  • And 19 species are listed as ‘Near Threatened’, which are being exploited for trade.
  • 2017: In a seizure in Nepal in October 23, 2017, three Indian nationals and a Pakistani national were arrested with a large number of animals and birds.
  • 2018: In another seizure at Lucknow, about 800 wild birds were seized in the first week of January and seven persons were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police.

What is in news?

  • Over the past two decades reports have shown that of the 1,300 Indian species of birds, about 450 are being traded in domestic and international markets.
  • Winter is a preferred time for the trade as the birds can undertake longer journeys without food and water, and can be stored in smaller spaces to avoid detection.
  • Since West Bengal shares a weak 2,216 km border with Bangladesh, the birds are easily taken to the neighbouring country, and smuggled all over the world via traders in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

Why illegal trade of wild birds is rampant in India despite a strict law?

Despite a strict law, the illegal trade of wild birds is rampant in India because of the following reasons:

  • The main reason for the unabated wildlife trafficking across India is its weak international land borders.
  • The biggest bottleneck in ensuring efficient checks on wildlife trafficking is the exponentially growing demand for animal trophies in India.
  • The lack of political will and governance failures worsen the situation.
  • It is an unending problem as long as there is demand for wild Indian birds in local markets.
  • While there are provisions in the law to prosecute the buyers of these birds, it has not been implemented.
  • The underground nature of trade in wild Indian birds makes it difficult to enumerate it.
  • Disincentives for over-exploitation and illegal trade, such as penalties for legal infringements are also not strong enough.

What are the reasons for the decline in population of birds?

The major reasons for decline in the population of birds are:

  • loss, modification, fragmentation and degradation of habitat,
  • environmental contaminants,
  • massive number of poaching,
  • land use changes particularly conversion of large areas to intensive crop cultivation,
  • threats posed by infrastructure development, such as collisions with vehicles, power-lines and wind turbines, further intensify the situation.

What are the steps taken by Government for conservation and management of endangered species of birds?

The steps taken by Government for conservation and management of endangered species of birds are as follows:

  • India is signatory to several major international conventions for the protection endangered species of birds.
  • Some of them are: Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
  • The Central Government has enacted the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 for protection of wildlife including birds.
  • The Act, inter alia, provides for creation of Protected Areas for protection of wild life and also provides for punishment for hunting of specified fauna including birds specified in the schedules I to IV thereof.
  • Important habitats of birds have been notified as Protected Areas under the Act.
  • Wetland (Conservation and Management)Rules 2010 have been framed for protection of wetlands, in the States, which are habitats of birds.
  • The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-System also provides assistance to the States for management of wet lands including Ramsar sites in the country.
  • Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been established for control of illegal trade in wildlife, including endangered species of birds and their parts and products.
  • Research and monitoring activities on birds are promoted by the Government through reputed research organizations.

Way forward:

  • There is an urgent need for knowledge and action to bring the legal wildlife trade within sustainable levels and stop all illegal trade.
  • No program can succeed solely because of government policies, peoples’ participation is critical for success.
  • While such initiatives augur well, much more needs to be done to protect and preserve India’s wildlife given the enormity and pervasiveness of threat.
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