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November 9, 2017

Lack of wildlife at Sonepur Fair is a promising sign of effective enforcement of laws

Although the fair is yet to conclude, lack of wildlife sightings could mean the illegal trade finally feels the heat of the law

Humane Society International/India

  • An Asian elephant in India. Frank Loftus/HSUS

Humane Society International/India is applauding Sonepur mela officials for enforcing a ban on trading wildlife, including exotic birds, at Asia's largest cattle fair.

While elephants on display were a big draw for visitors in recent editions of the fair, their trade has been prohibited since 1972 under the Wildlife Protection Act. The Sonepur mela had also seen illegal trade of animals grow rampantly at the fair ground in recent years.

Recent fairs have also seen the sale of thousands of exotic birds smuggled from various places in the country. However, in October 2017, the Bihar Environment and Forest Department prohibited the trade of protected birds at the fair as per a directive of the Patna High Court.

N.G. Jayasimha, managing director of HSI/India, who was part of the team that fought for the ban on wildlife trade at the fair, said, “It is the first time in my memory that we have seen no illegal trade in wildlife and exotic birds at Sonepur. This is just the beginning of the fair and while we have a few more weeks before we see the fruits of our efforts, we are extremely happy at the current situation. The support of the local forest officials and the enforcement officers has been remarkable and we are certain that by working together we will be able to ensure that law is followed and thousands of animals are spared from unnecessary misery.”

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Since 2014, People for Animals and HSI/India teams have been working with the Patna government, conducting undercover investigations inside the fair and fighting the matter in court, in addition to creating awareness about the illegal wildlife trade in Sonepur. The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations filed a petition to ban the trade in 2014.

Until recently, traders would illegally capture and sell several thousand protected wild animals at the Sonepur mela every year. Several species of birds, including parakeets, munias, mynas, shikras and owls would be put up for sale. HSI/India, through its on-going campaign against the illegal wildlife trade, regularly assists law enforcement agencies by gathering information through informants, converting this into actionable intelligence and finally working with authorities to confiscate and rescue animals in trade. In the past, members of HSI/India have assisted enforcement officials in seizures involving ivory, leopard skin, pangolin scales, live owls, parakeets etc. 

Sonepur mela is a month long fair that is scheduled to end on December, 3 2017.

Media Contact: Vidhi Malla, vmalla@hsi.org

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