What are kangaroos doing in the streets of India?

Mike Ives and Sameer Yasir/The New York Times

People encounter hungry and frightened kangaroos at the edge of forests in eastern India. After local residents reported what they saw, wildlife officers who began the search rescued the three marsupials. One of them was found dead. Videos of the kangaroos seen were widely shared in India and received national attention.

smuggling allegation

Wildlife experts are almost certain that the animals were born in Southeast Asian breeding facilities and smuggled overland to India, possibly to become exotic pets. Some social media users demanded the arrest of these traders. However, no action has been taken so far.

Indian Parliament takes action

Others attribute the absence of these kangaroos in India to the brazen wildlife smuggling trade. Members of the Indian Parliament are drafting bills to close loopholes that allow many animal traffickers to go unpunished. Wildlife activist Belinda Wright, who lives in India’s capital, New Delhi, said India has no law to arrest or prosecute people for possession of alien species. He points out that authorities can only prosecute people who smuggle animals without paying customs duties or having a permit.

They can only be arrested for smuggling.

“Police can only arrest them for contraband,” said Wright, executive director of India’s nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society. But they have no authority for anything else,” he said. He pointed out that after the successful introduction of exotic animals into the country, people captured with them lied to assert that they had been bred in captivity in the country and that this tactic had succeeded.

Kangaroos have been hunted for generations

Kangaroos have never been domesticated. The homeland of marsupials is Australia, where they number in the tens of millions and have been hunted for generations. They were removed from the list of endangered and threatened wild species in the United States in 1995. Kangaroos are not common pets in India. But in recent weeks they have been spotted walking along roads in the northeastern state of West Bengal, a known site of wildlife smuggling. Wright explained that the chances of breeding such kangaroos in the wild in India are slim. The main reason for this is that kangaroos are mammals, unlike plants or amphibians. He also added that they are rarely smuggled into the country, so they are not part of large groups of animals that can multiply and form a community.

The problem of wildlife smuggling in India

West Bengal forestry officer Sanjay Dutta was patrolling a protected area. Residents of a nearby village called him to tell him that they had discovered some unknown wild creatures. “They looked scared, hurt and looking for something to eat,” Dutta said of the creatures she found in the village of Milanpally.

Two years ago, India’s Revenue Intelligence Directorate said in a report that smuggling of endangered animals and exotic wildlife is an unfortunate and growing trend in India, partly the result of rules restricting trade in native species. Customs officials in the country have confiscated thousands of non-native species in recent years, including hawks, finches, orangutans, monkeys and macaws. Some were in danger; many were intended to be sold as exotic pets.

CITES Treaty

But Debadityo Sinha, a senior assistant at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy in New Delhi, said India lags behind other countries in putting in place a CITES-friendly legislative structure. A proposed amendment to India’s Wildlife (Conservation) Act 1972 would place the ownership of alien species under the control of wildlife conservation authorities rather than customs officials. The bill, which is currently in committee, is expected to be enacted when it comes to parliament. Sinha said it would “probably fill the legal gap in the regulation of alien species in India to some extent.”

Two of the kangaroos are still alive

But for now, India’s erratic rules on imported wildlife are an opportunity for smugglers targeting wealthy customers willing to pay for unusual pets in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities. One of three kangaroos found alive in West Bengal this month later died. The two remaining kangaroos are slowly recovering and will likely be sent to a zoo in Kolkata, a few hundred miles away, park superintendent Dawa S. Sherpa said. Sherpa “There are already a lot of kangaroos there. The zoo also has appropriate infrastructure. They should be allowed to grow there,” he says.

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