By Krishnendu Mukherjee
KOLKATA: Three chimpanzees — listed endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — and five marmosets, another exotic species, were rescued by Customs officials from the house of an animal dealer in Baguiati on Wednesday morning.
The dealer, Subhrodip Guha, has been detained and is being interrogated. Officials are trying to find out whether the chimps were illegally procured from any breeding firm in any of the South East Asian countries or hunted illegally in Africa, their only wild habitat. Officers of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) joined their counterparts in Customs later in the day to help in the probe.
The chimpanzees, two male and a female, and the marmosets have been handed over to Alipore zoo. It may be noted that Alipore zoo authorities were looking for a pair of chimps as the female primate at the zoo died recently and the male, Babu, is past his prime. "We will keep the animals in quarantine for at least 21 days. Later, on doctors' advice we will shift them to normal enclosures for display," said zoo director K L Ghosh. The animal dealer has claimed one of the chimps is ill.
The rescues primates, which are around one-and-a-half-years old, are common chimpanzees scientifically known as Pan Trogolodytes, said Koushik Mondal, inspector of WCCB. "The dealer has told us he procured the chimps almost six months ago from Bangladesh and had plans to sell them to a private zoo in South India," Mondal said.
While the dealer has produced a letter from the director general of foreign trade (DGFT) to prove his business is above board, Customs officials said it proves nothing.
"Chimpanzees are listed under appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that says import and export of these primates are subject to regulation. Only government approved agencies can undertake import or export either under a zoo animal exchange programme or for any scientific study. Besides, an approval from the forest and environment ministry of the importing country is needed. The DGFT can only forward a letter to the MoEF, but the final approval is given by the environment ministry only," said C Behera, deputy director of WCCB.
"The dealer claimed each chimpanzee can be sold for anything between Rs 2-4 lakh in the Indian market," Mondal said. Those in the know, however, claimed the market price for a pair of chimps can be as high as Rs 40-60 lakh, while a pair of the marmosets can fetch Rs 1.5 lakh.
Founder of NGO Compassionate Crusaders' Trust, Debasis Chakrabarti, said these animals are usually cage-bred in breeding firms of Singapore. "From Singapore, they are sent to Myanmar by air. From Myanmar it reaches Bangladesh by road and then enters India through the Sunderbans," said Chakarabarti, adding that from India the animals are also, at times, sent to Gulf countries.
State wildlife advisory board member Biswajit Roy Chowdhury said India's porous border with neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar is aiding illegal wildlife trade. "India is fast becoming a transit hub for illegal wildlife trade and our officials should take note of this," he added.
Echoing Roy Chowdhury's view, another member of state wildlife advisory board, Joydip Kundu, said the incident shows the city is fast becoming a major route for illegal wildlife traders who have network across the world.