Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade

This undated file photo shows Kangaroos in West Bengal. (REUTERS)
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Updated 20 May 2022

Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade

  • India has stringent laws to protect wildlife, but no rules covering exotic species
  • Lawmakers currently drafting legislation to close loopholes in legal protection

NEW DELHI: Villagers in West Bengal have since March reported seeing large animals with big feet leaping through forests. The locals say they have never spotted the creatures before.

The sightings drew national attention when wildlife officials in the Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts of the northeastern Indian state last month rescued three of the animals — that turned out to be kangaroos.

“We have initiated further investigation for ascertaining the whereabouts of these kangaroos — by whom and how they were brought into the forest along with finding the cause behind bringing them,” Belakoba forest range officer Sanjay Dutta told reporters at the time.

While the sightings are being probed, Wasim Akram, executive director of Wildlife SOS, a non-governmental organization rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in India, said it was most likely the animals had been smuggled into the country. The marsupials are indigenous to Australia and New Guinea and have never lived in South Asia, except for zoos.

“We still don’t have conditions to be breeding this kind of species in India. The higher chances would be of trafficking because that is how we have been seeing it happening in the past,” he told Arab News.

But it is unclear if the kangaroos came from Oceania, as wildlife smuggling networks may span several continents.

“Earlier, we used to see a lot of cases of reptiles being trafficked into India but that would never be from the port of exit to the port of entry, there would be multiple entry points, so it would be very difficult to track the source of origin,” Akram added.

“It happens that a species may be native of Africa. They end up trafficking it first to a place like Indonesia, and from there they send it to India.”

Indian law provides little accountability for those who own exotic pets or are involved in their trade.

Although the South Asian nation has some of the world’s most stringent legislations to protect wildlife and habitats, it does not have any rules or penalties for trading and owning of non-native species, endangered or not.

“Indian law does not have provision for domestic transfer or breeding of exotic animals,” Debadityo Sinha from the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, told Arab News. “There is a legal vacuum.”

An amnesty announced by the Ministry of Environment in 2020 showed how common such pets were in the country, when tens of thousands of Indians came forward to confess ownership of species from tortoises and pythons to lemurs and gibbons.

“As of May 26, 2021, a total of 43,693 applications for amnesty had been made under this advisory,” Sinha said.

Abhijit Sarkhel, a wildlife activist from New Delhi, said the sighting of exotic species was nothing new, adding that kangaroos only drew attention because they were big and very visible.

“Lots of people keep smaller mammals as pets and it’s an unregulated area,” he said. “If a person cannot handle the pet and release them in the forest then it’s the responsibility of forest departments.”

The lack of responsibility for exotic pets and their sighting in places where they do not belong is just the tip of the iceberg of conservation problems. “It’s certainly an extreme form of cruelty,” Akram said, adding that non-native species may struggle to survive in a different climate.

One of the kangaroos intercepted by wildlife officials in Bengal last month died from dehydration and malnutrition the day after it was rescued.

“When you introduce a species which is not native to that area, it can be a threat to the native species,” Akram added. “You can end up introducing a new virus, new infection.”

Despite being a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora agreement since 1976, India is still to extend legal protection to many species listed in its appendices.

But works are in progress as last year Indian lawmakers began to draft legislation to amend the 1972 Wildlife (Protection) Act and close its loopholes.

“They are trying to regularize and regulate this particular field,” Akram said. “I won’t be surprised if a formal declaration is made very soon.”


UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

Updated 06 July 2022

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

  • The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGo
  • Won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson late Tuesday named his Iraqi-born education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, as finance minister after the shock resignation of Rishi Sunak.
Downing Street said Queen Elizabeth II had approved the appointment of Zahawi, who came to Britain as a child with his Kurdish family not speaking any English, before forging a lucrative business career.
The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGov and was active in local Conservative politics in London, before becoming an MP in 2010.
He won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.
But like Sunak, his private wealth has drawn adverse attention, including when he claimed parliamentary expenses for heating his horse stables in 2013.
Zahawi refused to comment to reporters as he left a meeting in 10 Downing Street, including on whether he will uphold Sunak’s pleas for fiscal discipline against Johnson’s free-spending instincts.
The prime minister named another loyalist, Michelle Donelan, to take Zahawi’s place at the education ministry.


2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

Updated 05 July 2022

2 key UK Cabinet ministers quit Boris Johnson’s government

  • Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other
  • Sunak and Javid have been seen as possible leadership contenders within the Conservative Party if Johnson is forced out

LONDON: Two of Britain’s most senior Cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday, a move that could spell the end of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership after months of scandals.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other after a day in which the prime minister was forced to acknowledge he had to change his story on the way he handled allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior member of his government.
“It is with enormous regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this government,’’ Javid said in his resignation letter. “I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government.’’
Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”
“I recognize this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning,” he added.
Both Sunak and Javid have been seen as possible leadership contenders within the Conservative Party if Johnson is forced out. Their departures were a huge blow to the prime minister, because both were in charge of two of the biggest issues facing Britain right now — the cost of living crisis and the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest scandal saw Johnson hit by allegations he failed to come clean about a lawmaker who was appointed to a senior position despite claims of sexual misconduct.
Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip Thursday amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club.
Minutes before the resignations of Javid and Sunak were announced, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.
Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said “I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do.”
“I apologize to everybody who has been badly affected by it. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power,” Johnson said.
The government’s explanation shifted repeatedly over the past five days. Ministers initially said Johnson wasn’t aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.
On Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of sexual misconduct allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
That account didn’t sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said Tuesday that the prime minister’s office still wasn’t telling the truth.
McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.
McDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not made formally.
“The original No. 10 line is not true, and the modification is still not accurate,” McDonald wrote, referring to the prime minister’s Downing Street office. “Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation.
Hours after McDonald’s comments came out, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister forgot he was told that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.
The latest revelations have fueled discontent within Johnson’s Cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime minister’s denials, only to have the explanation shift the next day.
The Times of London on Tuesday published an analysis of the situation under the headline “Claim of lying puts Boris Johnson in peril.”
Johnson’s authority had already been shaken by a vote of no confidence last month. He survived, but 41 percent of Conservatives voted to remove him from office.
The prime minister’s shifting responses to months of allegations about lockdown-breaking parties in government offices that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one levied against Johnson, fueled concerns about his leadership.
Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were badly beaten in two special elections to fill vacant seats in Parliament, adding to the discontent within Johnson’s party.
When Pincher resigned last week as deputy chief whip, a key position in enforcing party discipline, he told the prime minister that he “drank far too much” the previous night and had “embarrassed myself and other people.”
Johnson initially refused to suspend Pincher from the Conservative Party, but he relented after a formal complaint about the groping allegations was filed with parliamentary authorities.
Critics suggested Johnson was slow to react because he didn’t want to be in the position of forcing Pincher to resign his Parliament seat and setting up the Conservatives for another potential special election defeat.
Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions were swirling that Johnson may soon face another no-confidence vote.
In the next few weeks, Conservative lawmakers will elect new members to the committee that sets parliamentary rules for the party. Several candidates have suggested they would support changing the rules to allow for another vote of no confidence. The existing rules require 12 months between such votes.
Senior Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, a long-standing critic of Johnson, said he would support a change of the rules of the Conservative 1922 Committee.
“Mr. Johnson has for three days now been sending ministers — in one case a Cabinet minister — out to defend the indefensible, effectively to lie on his behalf. That cannot be allowed to continue,” Gale told the BBC. “This prime minister has trashed the reputation of a proud and honorable party for honesty and decency, and that is not acceptable.”


Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

Updated 05 July 2022

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

  • At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada
  • Toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days

CANAZEI, Italy: Five Italian climbers were still missing more than 48 hours after the deadly collapse of part of a mountain glacier in the Alps, a tragedy that is being blamed on rising temperatures.
At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters (10,830 feet) is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.
That toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days.
“When we arrived we saw a disaster, we realized the dimensions of this enormous avalanche,” said Stefano Coter, head of the local alpine rescue team and one of the first people to reach the scene.
“We found injured people in need of help and other people who were dead,” he added.
Much of Italy has been baking in an early-summer heatwave and scientists said climate change was making previously stable glaciers more unpredictable.
Maurizio Fugatti, president of the Trento region, confirmed the death toll and the numbers missing at a news conference on Tuesday evening.
With the peak still unstable, rescuers have been using drones and helicopters to look for victims or try to locate them through their mobile phone signals. The teams found human remains or climbing gear at three or four sites on Tuesday.
Rescue coordinators said a layer of dust and debris was limiting the effectiveness of drone searches and they hoped to send a team of experts and search dogs to the lower part of the site on Thursday when the weather is forecast to be clearer.
The Marmolada will remain closed to tourists for the time being to allow rescue teams to operate, Giovanni Bernard, the mayor in the local town of Canazei, said earlier on Tuesday.
Hikers in the area said they were in any case frightened and would try to stick to safer routes.
“Right now after what happened I feel a bit scared because two days ago we were about to walk just near the glacier. It could have happened to us,” said Mikael Bouchard, a 29-year-old from Lyon.


Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.