By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati/Aizawl, Sep 11 : The 1,643-km long India-Myanmar unfenced borders, which have already turned into a hotspot of illegal trade in various highly addictive drugs, gold, arms and ammunition and other contraband, have also become an easy route for smuggling of endangered and exotic animals from Myanmar.
According to the central para-military officials, the exotic animals are illegally traded and transported to India’s northeast region mainly on two routes. One is eastern Mizoram’s Champhai district bordering Myanmar and the other is from Moreh in Chandel district in southern Manipur.
Moreh, along the India-Myanmar border, is 110 km south of Manipur capital Imphal and just four km west of Myanmar’s biggest border town Tamu (in Sagaing Region). It has been a famous cross border trading centre for decades.
Those arrested in Assam, Mizoram and Manipur with the smuggled animals confessed that they were paid to deliver their consignments to West Bengal, specifically the Alipurduar-Cooch Behar-Jalpaiguri-Siliguri belt.
Forest officials said Myanmar, now under military rule, has been the hub of most exotic and rare animals smuggled into the northeastern states, specially Mizoram and Manipur, and then to northern West Bengal and other places in the country.
The Assam Police in one of the biggest seizures of smuggled animals on September 8 seized 40 rare and exotic animals, including 19 primates and two baby wallabies, from two West Bengal-bound Sport Utility Vehicles at Rangia in Kamrup district and arrested two people.
The two Delhi government-registered SUVs, with army stickers on them, were moving from Mizoram and were bound for Siliguri in northern West Bengal.
The rare animals were confined in several cages. The detainees, residents of Tamil Nadu, who were driving the two SUVs, told the police that they had travelled from Mizoram and were heading for Siliguri to deliver the animals.
The vehicles with the exotic animals had travelled more than 720 km through three bordering northeastern states — Mizoram, Meghalaya and Assam — before being intercepted on NH-31 at Rangia, 55-km northwest of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
Guwahati Zoo veterinarian Shankar Sharma said that like previous cases the rescued animals have been kept in quarantine, away from other animals and human beings.
“As the zoonotic diseases spread to animals as well as human beings, whenever we rescue any animal, exotic or otherwise, we keep them isolated and provide whatever is necessary. They will be in quarantine for one to three months under close observation,” Sharma told IANS.
On August 24, the Mizoram Police rescued nine exotic animals, smuggled from Myanmar, and detained two persons in the state’s Kolasib district.
A police officer said that the Vairengte Police personnel intercepted a vehicle at the checkpoint in Kolasib district and rescued two capybaras and seven grey monkeys from a car that was also seized by the police.
On May 25, a total of 468 endangered exotic animals, including 442 lizards, smuggled from neighbouring Myanmar, were seized by police and wildlife enforcement agencies in Mizoram’s Champhai district and five people were arrested in this connection.
On May 8, kangaroos, rats, meerkats, white cockatoos and Burmese pythons, — all exotic animals not indigenous to India — were seized after they were smuggled from Myanmar.
Senior police and intelligence officials said Mizoram and other northeastern states, bordering Myanmar, have become an active route for smuggling exotic animals and various drugs from South East Asian countries to mainland India.
According to the officials, these animals are smuggled from countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar where there are exotic animal breeding farms.
There were instances that exotic animals seized in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh were smuggled from Myanmar and ferried through Mizoram to these states.
Forest and wildlife officials in North Bengal found four smuggled kangaroos in the Gajoldoba area of Jalpaiguri in April. Two more kangaroos – one dead, the other injured – were found in the Dabgram forest range.
The West Bengal Forest officials also rescued four monkeys smuggled from Indonesia from a Siliguri-bound bus earlier this year.
The Assam Forest officials earlier seized a red kangaroo, six hyacinth macaw, two capuchin monkeys from South Africa and three Aldabra giant tortoises from a truck near the state’s border with Mizoram.
The Assam police during routine checks in Golaghat district earlier found macaws, silvery marmosets, and golden-headed tamarin – all exotic animals from Brazil’s Amazon, smuggled via Moreh.
According to the Secretary General and CEO of Aaranyak, Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar of the Assam-based green group Aaranyak, there seems to be a trend of keeping exotic animals as pets leading to the rising trafficking in animals.
“Our biggest worry is that these endangered animals, unlike those exchanged by zoos, being traded, transported and unscientifically kept without health screening, causing the risk of spreading various diseases endangering the lives of both the animals and the human,” Talukdar said.
Gauhati High Court Judge N. Kotiswar Singh while addressing a recent workshop on wildlife at Bongaigaon said that the security forces including the central para-military force personnel cannot ignore the crimes related to wildlife although their main duty is to ensure security of the area they are posted in.
“Fundamental duties enshrined in the Constitution of India entailed that all the citizens protect the environment, forest, water bodies and wildlife,” Singh pointed out.
Addressing the workshop, Justice Soumitra Saikia of the Gauhati High Court highlighted some key provisions in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, as well as the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure that are equally applicable.
Aaranyak’s Talukdar pointed out the links between wildlife crimes, narco-terrorism and arms smuggling.
Synergy among various enforcement agencies including forest, police, central forces and judiciary is the need of the hour in combating the global menace of wildlife crimes,” Talukdar said.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)