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Illegal wildlife trafficking gangs have begun transporting kangaroos – native to Australia – to the eastern Indian state of West Bengal as the smuggling of exotic animals via India rises exponentially.
Three of the marsupials were rescued by wildlife officers last month after a botched smuggling attempt when residents called in sightings in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. One was later found dead.
Wildlife officials pointed out that the animals are the latest exotic creatures to be smuggled into the country, possibly to be used as pets exposing the loopholes in India's booming wildlife trade.
According to divisional forest officer, Hari Krishnan: “It was unusual for the animals to be here. A probe has now been initiated to investigate how the animals reached the forests, and from where.
“The smugglers probably got wind of a possible raid and left the kangaroos in the open, fearing arrest,” he added.
The lowland forest region at Gajoldoba Forest, where the kangaroos were found is surrounded by Bangladesh in the south, Nepal in the east, and Bhutan in the north.
Spike in demand for exotic species
India has seen a rise in demand for exotic animals and animals from Bangkok, Malaysia and other top tourist destinations in South East Asia are smuggled into the country which make their way to cities across the country.
Just last week, customs authorities at the southern city of Chennai thwarted two attempts to smuggle wild animals from Thailand over consecutive days.
In a separate incident, the authorities rescued a leucistic sugar glider that was concealed in a container inside a passenger's baggage.
Two years back, a red kangaroo, the largest of all kangaroos in Australia, and three pairs of hyacinth macaws, native to South America, were among some of the exotic animals rescued after forest department officials busted a smuggling racket at the Assam-Mizoram border in north-east India.
Traditional rituals fuel trafficking of animal parts
In India, the demand for animal parts in superstitious rituals fuels poaching and illegal trade, and the illegal availability of these parts sustains the rituals. Sanctions to deter such trade have had little effect.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), elephant tusks, pangolin scales, tiger skins and Indian star tortoises are just some of the wildlife parts and derivatives that have been confiscated at Indian airports.
Large quantities of Sperm whale ambergris have also been seized across the country which is used in the West to stabilize the scent of fine perfumes.
The World Wildlife Report 2020 found that over a twenty year period, 6,000 different species of flora and fauna had been seized.
In its latest report, wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC found that over 70,000 native and exotic animals and their derivatives were trafficked through 18 Indian airports between 2011 and 2020.