Shillong: Meghalaya have rescued seven Hornbills, suspected to be smuggled from Myanmar, and arrested a wildlife trafficker carrying the endangered birds towards Assam’s Guwahati, a police official said on Tuesday.
The exotic birds were rescued on Monday night by a team of police, who were conducting routine checks at Jowai bypass on NH-6 in West Jaintia Hills district. The wildlife trafficker has been identified as N.K.Thangtea (22), a resident of Aizawl in Mizoram.
“A special team was conducting routine checks of vehicles at Jowai bypass and intercepted a Mahindra Bolero bearing registration number MZ-01 R- 0463. On searching the vehicle, the police team found three suspicious plastic boxes/cages covered with carton materials from top. On further checking, found the presence of seven Hornbill species birds,” Bikram D Marak, the district police chief of West Jaintia Hills, said.
Thangtea has been booked under the relevant Wildlife Protection Act, the police official said.
This is the second such seizure and rescue of exotic and endangered birds and animal species in the past few days. On Friday last eight endangered animals — two Hoolock Gibbons, two Grey Langurs, a Great Indian Hornbill, a Phayre’s Leaf monkey and an otter — were rescued from a vehicle at 8th mile near Jowai, the district headquarters of West Jaintia Hills.
Two traffickers – Kormola Bru and Michael Zosangliana – both natives of Mizoram were also arrested. The rescued animals were being taken from Mizoram to Guwahati.
“We have taken custody of the eight exotic birds. We are in the process of verifying the exact species of these birds with the Wildlife Institute of India to help us identify the exact species and veterinarians are monitoring the health of the rescued birds,” a wildlife official told UNI.
“The wildlife trafficker said that the birds were transported from Mizoram to Guwahati. He has been produced before the court,” the official said but refused to divulge further details.
Wildlife expert Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar told UNI: “Last few years there has been an inflow of exotic species into India’s northeast. Generally, there has been an outflow of animals from India.”
“Generally, there has been an outflow of animals from India … but this is a new trend and the intensity is increasing. Because they are being brought in illegally there is no health check up for them when they cross borders and we do not know what kind of zoonotic diseases these animals may be carrying,” Talukdar, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Aaranyak, a prominent biodiversity conservation organisation of India’s northeast.
“These rescued endangered species of animals and birds are endemic to South East Asian Countries. Most of these wildlife species are smuggled from other South East Asian countries through sea routes to Myanmar and then to Mizoram or Manipur via Meghalaya-Assam to the rest of India,” he added.
Meanwhile, Forests and Environment Minister James Sangma tweeted, “Utterly shocked and saddened by yet another wildlife trafficking case that was busted by Jowai Police and rescuing seven hornbills. The rise in wildlife trafficking in Meghalaya is a worrying trend which is threatening endangered species.”
According to wildlife experts, the illegal wildlife trade is the third largest illicit commerce after drugs and arms and organised criminal networks operate across the biodiversity hotspots in northeast India. No one is sure about the exact scale of the trade or its operations.
Other than trafficking living wildlife animals, the traffickers also indulge in killing and extracting animal products such as fur, skin, stuffed heads, teeth and bones that are used for many purposes, mostly in the traditional Chinese medicine market.
“Wild flora and fauna can be exploited by criminals along the entire supply chain, from poaching and transportation to processing and selling. Other illegal activities are often associated with wildlife crimes, including money laundering, corruption and document fraud,” experts said.
Interpol estimates the total value of illegal trade in wildlife up to USD 20 billion (around Rs 1.1 trillion) per year.