Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Bird Smugglers given the Birds back – by the ZOO

It was recently reported this week, May 7th 2012 to be exact that 121 birds that were caught by the customs, as having being illegally imported from Bangkok were to be returned to the smuggler, by the Dehiwela Zoo director who said that they did not have the wherewithal to take care of them.

Having been caught, the smuggler had to pay a fine of Rs450,000 and have the birds confiscated. They were apparently valued at Rs15M. The blue and yellow Macaw indigenous to South America sells at Rs1.2M. It was also reported that the smuggler has been engaged in big time smuggling to satisfy the demand of the local market for exotic birds. Bangkok being a hot spot for the trade in exotic birds appears to be the intersection, where the birds come from the source destination, some being exotic and endangered, and the buyers from all over the world take them to their respective countries!

There are a couple of issues. First, the consignment was illegally imported, and under SL law, customs are justified in confiscating the consignment and fining the importer. The birds then become the property of the state. The state must decide what to do with them. They can re-export it to the country of origin, or hand them to an authorized body, in this case the zoo to take care of them. The limited budget the zoo survives on, rightly gives the responsibility to the zoo director to ascertain whether he has the resources for their maintenance; the space, ability to provide the expensive food some of these birds need, and the veterinary services. Upon his determination that he was unable to do so, what should he do?

He is not permitted to sell government property! Without himself getting interdicted! What is the humane thing to do short of killing the birds? If they want to re-export the endangered birds legitimately, where do they send it to? The only person who would accept them with an undertaking was the smuggler.

So can he receive government property free of charge? What if he is asked to pay market value and he refuses? These are all questions to ponder on. On a far more important note, how can we in Sri Lanka do our bit to take action against the trade in endangered species which must form part of some international law somewhere!

What I would propose as the sanest solution, short of killing them, is to advertise and auction the birds in a public auction, cash on delivery at the time of auction, as that is where they will end up anyway. If that bird park in Kelaniya, which is the other place to see a variety of birds in captivity from all over the world is willing they should also bid for whatever they can get! What do you have to say?

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