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Regulating captive breeding of exotic species


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Notification of the Breeders of Species Licence Rules, 2023 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate and Change (MoEFCC) has cleared the decks for obtaining license for captive breeding of exotic species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES). The notification has been issued in haste and has overlooked the possibility of poaching of such species from wild habitats in the country under the cover of license for captive breeding by unscrupulous elements. Those, supporting the notification, have argued that the notified Rules would provide the much needed legal framework for protection of highly endangered and protected wildlife species in captivity. Over 32,000 private individuals in the country had made voluntary disclosure in 2021, in response to a government amnesty, about possession of exotic animals as pets. This helped the MoEFCC create an inventory of exotic species in captivity with private individuals in the country. The Voluntary Disclosure Scheme announced by the government in 2020 advisory that the declarer would not be required to produce any documentation in relation to the exotic live species if the same has been declared within six months of the date of issue of the advisory. For any declaration made after six months of the date of issue of the advisory, the declarer shall be required to comply with the documentation requirement under the extant laws and regulations. The Ministry issued the advisory streamline the process for import and possession of exotic live species in India considering the significance of such species and develop an inventory of such species. There is no likelihood of the inventory being exhaustive and many private individuals who could still be in possession of exotic wildlife species protected under CITES as pets but not making disclosure about it cannot be ruled out. What will be the guarantee that such exotic wildlife species in captivity but not disclosed by their owners would not be passed on as exotic animals bred in captivity by a license holder? The advisory stated that register of stock shall include details such as species imported/acquired, the number of animal of each species imported/acquired, photographs (for the purpose of identification of the species), and the address where the exotic live species have been kept. All importers must register themselves one time, before the respective Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWLWs), prior to the import of exotic live species and provide details of facilities for housing for the exotic live species. The India Smuggling Report 2021-22 published by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in November last year reveals that there is a growing trend of smuggling of exotic wildlife species into India for pet trade. The report highlights that India is high in reptilian diversity (610 species in mainland India and 50% the Indian star tortoise which is a species native to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. These star tortoises are collected from India in large quantities and smuggled into Southeast and East Asian countries, added the DRI report and sounded the caution that there is a serious threat to native fauna due to exotic pets, as trade increases the likelihood of invasion and spread of zoonotic diseases. In October 2022, DRI officers seized 1204 reptiles of various exotic species such as ball python, green iguana, monitor lizard, corn snakes, African spurred tortoise etc. at Chennai and subsequently, 650 exotic reptiles were seized at Mumbai. According to the report globally, environmental crimes are considered as the fourth largest illegal trade, after arms, drugs and human trafficking. Any person who intends to engage in breeding in captivity or artificially propagating a listed species will be required to submit an application to the Chief Wild Life Warden and the licence for captive breeding shall be issued for a period of two years and may be renewed on application. The illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth up to US dollar 20 billion per year. Wildlife experts opposing the legitimising captive breeding of CITES protected exotic species argue that the fee for obtaining a license for captive breeding of exotic species has been fixed at Rs 25,000 which is quite a small amount for many rich individuals who are in possession of such species and the license would encourage them to indulge in trade of such species and this subsequently may allow illegal wildlife smugglers to use it as a conduit for illegal trade of such protected species. The rules lack clarity as how the government would keep a check on population of captive-bred wildlife species and what will be the consequence of over population of different captive-bred exotic species which cannot be released into the wild. Fixing a cap on number of captive bred specimen can be one way of checking over population and illegal trade.

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