Two suspected wildlife smugglers were arrested as the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) rescued 30 exotic birds and a red-eared guenon, a primate species found in Africa, on the Mizoram-Assam border, officials said on Wednesday. The animals have been handed over to the Zoo in Aizawl.
According to a DRI official who spoke to EastMojo on the condition of anonymity, the incident happened on January 22 at Vairengte, the Mizoram-Assam border town in Kolasib district. A joint team of Mizoram Police, Mizoram Forest Department and DRI intercepted a Tata Sumo at the Vairengte check gate.
“We found 30 exotic birds and a red-eared guenon from the cab,” the DRI official told EastMojo.
The official said the animals were brought in from Myanmar and later handed over to local carriers. The two persons who were arrested carrying the animals in the cab are residents of Mizoram. “The cab was coming from Aizawl. We don’t know where it was headed,” the official said.
“It’s a complex supply chain,” the DRI official explained. “The animals were likely being brought from Southeast Asia and headed to pet markets in the country,” the official said.
Details of the exotic birds were not immediately available, but the red-eared guenon is a shy primate whose habitat extends from the Cross River in southeastern Nigeria to the south of the Sanaga River in Cameroon. The primate is also found in Equatorial Guinea.
The male red-eared guenons are slightly larger than females, averaging 42 cm in length and weighing 3.6 kg. They are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list.
“We don’t know if these animals are captive-bred from a breeding centre in some Southeast Asian country or captured in the wild and smuggled in from other countries,” the official said. He added that this continuing smuggling shows there is a demand for exotic species in the country.
In July, Assam Forest Department officials arrested two suspected wildlife smugglers, seizing several exotic animals including a red kangaroo from Australia, six hyacinth macaws, two capuchin monkeys from South America and three Aldabra giant tortoises in Cachar district. The animals were being brought in a truck from Mizoram. They were meticulously packed in a box which had eight cages.
The two suspects were later released on bail after the Gauhati High Court noted on August 20, 2020, that the “seized animals do not come within the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. “The detention of the petitioners would not be permissible under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and since the only case registered against the petitioners as on date is under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, this Court is of the view that the petitioners will be entitled to go on bail vis a vis the aforesaid case under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 unless wanted in connection with any other case,” the court said in the bail order.
The lawyers of the two alleged smugglers had argued that though all the rescued wild animals are exotic and fall under the category of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) Schedule 1 animal, none of these seized animals come under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Earlier in March 2018, officials in Assam seized three marmosets, four gaboon vipers, a meerkat, two African spurred tortoises, two albino reticulated pythons, 13 corn snakes, 10 giant scorpions, a sugar glider, and a dead central bearded dragon as they apprehended a suspected smuggler on the outskirts of Guwahati.
The officials had then said the animals likely came from some Southeast Asian country via Myanmar and Mizoram and were headed to Delhi.
In June 2020, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change issued an advisory for owners of exotic species to voluntarily disclose information about their inventory by December 31, 2020.