Silchar/Calcutta: On April 12, the Assam Forest Department seized five caged siamangs from a vehicle in Karbi Anglong district, heightening suspicions of a vibrant and completely illegal trade in exotic species, some of which are believed to come from wildlife farms in across the border in Myanmar.
The move comes 12 days after three kangaroos were discovered wandering in a wooded area near Jalpaiguri; the carcass of a fourth was found a day later. Earlier, on March 12, police seized a kangaroo from a truck at the Assam-West Bengal border.
Kangaroos are endemic to Australia; siamangs in Southeast Asia.
Jhon Das, the Bokajan sub-division police officer in West Karbi Anglong, said the animals were discovered during a routine check of a Maruti Ecco van coming from Dimapur.
“Around 5.30pm on Tuesday, officials from Dilai Police Station stopped the vehicle and discovered that there were caged animals inside. The two people inside the vehicle tried to flee but our officers managed to catch them,” Das added. The two were identified as Habibur Rahman (46) and Janab Khan (50), both residents of Sangaiyumpham village in Thoubal district of Manipur, police said. Vipin Bansal, Deputy District Forest Officer of Karbi Anglong East Division, confirmed that the seized animals are siamangs. “One is an adult, while the other four are minors,” he said.
The black-furred siamang is an ape and the largest of the gibbons. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which India is a signatory, lists siamangs on Appendix 1, meaning they are threatened with ‘extinction’ and trade in species is “allowed only in exceptional circumstances”.
In the March 12 case involving the kangaroos, police arrested the truck driver and cleaner (both from Hyderabad) who produced letters from Indore Zoo.
The two documents produced were a ‘transit authorization letter’ and an ‘order form’, both signed by the curator of Kamla Nehru Prani Sangrahalay, popularly known as Indore Zoo. “A red kangaroo was given to us by a man named Thagtee based in Mizoram. He contacted us saying he was the owner of an exotic animal farm. It was however not the first time he had donated animals to Indore Zoo. A few months ago, he had donated some parakeets,” said zoo curator Nihar Parulekar.
The parakeet is a bird in high demand as a pet. A kangaroo is completely different. Thagtee’s motives for wanting to donate kangaroos are unclear.
The other end of the chain led the police to investigate Thagtee, owner of the Buennel farm in Mizoram. However, the investigators have practically no information on this man so far, for lack of being able to find him. HT managed to secure a phone number believed to belong to Thagtee, but his phone was turned off as text queries went unanswered.
The Mizoram Forest Department says it is not aware of any farms dealing with exotic animals. The farm does not have a website. No address was listed on the documents other than Buennel Farm.
But the failure of the deal has raised suspicions that illegal farms may be operating along the Indo-Burma border and dealing in exotic species. “Indian zoos can only accept animals through exchange with other zoos and donations; they cannot buy animals. Also, if a farm wants to care for exotic animals such as red kangaroos, it must declare this on the Parivesh portal of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The state’s chief wildlife warden needs to know,” said Agni Mitra, Deputy Director (Eastern Region) of the Bureau of Wildlife Crime Control.
The seizure of the siamangs would seem to confirm this suspicion. Kangaroos are also covered by CITES but under Appendix 2, meaning the species is not threatened with extinction but trade “must be controlled to prevent use incompatible with their survival”. It is unclear why and how the Indore Zoo authorities were happy to accept such an animal being donated by someone from Mizoram.
“We had to pay for the transport. Not the animal. It was given to us. In the document signed by us, it is also written that the animals must come from a legal source and with the necessary documents. We should have produced all the documents before the Central Zoo Authority after we received the kangaroo,” said Parulekar of Indore Zoo.
The “Transit Authorization Letter”, a copy of which is with HT, indicates that Thagtee would deliver the product itself. But when the two people were arrested, he was not among them. The two people arrested were identified as SK Javed and SK Imran. They are now out on bail.
On April 1, two kangaroos were rescued in Gajoldoba, a tourist destination in Jalpaiguri district, near Siliguri, and a third in Farabari, about 40 km away, also in Jalpaiguri. The next morning, locals spotted the carcass of a fourth and alerted the Forest Service.
Indore Zoo said it knew nothing about the second shipment and investigations had also not progressed. “We have no idea at the moment. As no one was arrested, we could not interview anyone for clues,” said West Bengal Chief Wildlife Warden Debal Roy.
But other officers from the West Bengal state forest department and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau officials said the animals (kangaroos and siamangs) could have come from existing breeding farms. in Southeast Asian countries and may have entered India through the Indo-Burma border.
Assam Forestry Minister Parimal Suklabaidya said there was an international animal smuggling racket that could be very significant. Shipments enter India from Myanmar via Manipur and Mizoram. “We tried to find the destination, but we still don’t have a clear picture. There may be private zoos or people who like to keep exotic animals in cages at home. It is possible that this international racket is only using India as a transit route, and that animals and birds reach the international market via Bangladesh or other countries,” Suklabaidya said.
Admitting that Guwahati has become a major transit point for smuggled exotic animals, the minister said that the people of Manipur and Mizoram are just smugglers, who do not know the final destination or its origin. “The people we arrest have no idea who gave them the shipments. So we are not finding ways to catch the real culprit,” he said. Bansal added that the two arrested people told them that they should be informed to whom the consignment should be delivered when they reach Guwahati.
WCCB officials said an international syndicate of exotic wildlife smugglers whose fulcrum was based in Mizoram was dismantled by the Directorate of Fiscal Intelligence (DRI) in October 2018. Following this, several operations were carried out and many animals and birds were rescued from the northeastern borders. states.
Bansal said the siamangs are in good health and have been checked by a local veterinarian. They will soon be sent to a zoo.
Meanwhile, the three kangaroos found alive are recovering in a wildlife park near Sliguri. The first, found on March 12, was sent to the Calcutta Zoo.