Pumas-670
The recently acquired pair of pumas still finding their bearings in the zoo enclosure on Thursday. - Photo by White Star

KARACHI: While the Sindh wildlife department has initiated an inquiry into the procurement of a pair of young pumas, which cost the Karachi Zoological Gardens about Rs2.75 million last month, it emerged on Thursday that the animals had been purchased from a blacklisted local animal supplier.

Sources said the pumas were locally purchased from Marine World, owned by Jawaid Khan, though the firm was blacklisted by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) in June 2009 for illegally importing two pairs of white tigers without acquiring a mandatory import permit.

Sources in the wildlife department, too, confirmed to Dawn this information, but no official was available for comments.

The NCCW in a June 1, 2009 letter, which was forwarded to the director general of the Punjab wildlife department and the conservator of the Sindh wildlife department, stated: “Marine World, importers, exporters and breeders of exotic birds, zoo animals and reptiles, Karachi illegally imported four white tigers from Indonesia without obtaining CITES import permit/NOC from the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW), the Ministry of Environment.

“This illegal import has also been confessed by M/s Marine World, importer, exporter and breeders vide their letter dated 18th April, 2009.

Therefore, the Ministry of Environment, has decided to blacklist the M/s Marine World, importer, exporter and breeders from future imports and exports of wildlife.”In another letter, dated June 2, 2009, the ministry had asked the Sindh wildlife department that the city district government of Karachi be advised to arrange another animal supplier for the import of Siberian tigers since Marine World had been declared blacklisted.

Bashir Saddozai, the then zoo director who now heads Safari Park, confirmed to Dawn that the pumas were locally purchased from the Marine World, being run by Jawaid Khan. But he claimed he had no information that this firm had been blacklisted. “We observed complete transparency through open bidding and have no knowledge of this,” he said.

He added that there was a dire need that both Karachi Metropolitan Corporation-run facilities and Sindh wildlife department worked together and share information. “I have recently suggested to the Sindh wildlife conservator that a memorandum of understanding needs to be signed between the two departments so that the issues often highlighted in the media can be resolved,” he said.

While responding to a question, he said that in practice, wildlife department input had never been sought for a local purchase. “We are not legally bound to do so,” he added.

The KMC-run wildlife facilities needed wildlife department guidance, he said, highlighting the need for a collaborative mechanism.

The pumas, the sources said, were barely nine weeks old when they were imported in 2008 from Canada reportedly after an NOC for the import had been acquired from the NCCW. But the Karachi-based firm was blacklisted in June 2009 when it emerged that it imported two pairs of white tigers from Indonesia without seeking an import permit from the NCCW.

The firm sold a pair of white tigers to the Lahore zoo with the assistance of a third party at an exorbitant price; roughly 38 times the price the animal supplier had paid for the tigers, according to media reports.

The Lahore zoo also attempted to regularise the smuggled status of the tigers by approaching the NCCW for permission to have two white tigers imported, without informing the federal government that the animals in question had already been delivered to the zoo. It was then that the media exposed the wildlife trafficking scam and the Lahore zoo complicity in the trafficking.

After subsequent inquiries, the consignment was finally declared illegal by the customs authorities and the NCCW blacklisted the company.

A few officials of the Lahore zoo were also sacked in the case.

“Yes, the Marine World was blacklisted by the NCCW at that time. I can say it with confidence, because our organisation also helped in the investigations,” said Uzma Khan, director (biodiversity), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Lahore.

“The most damaging thing for wildlife is their illegal trade. What’s the point of blacklisting a firm if government departments continue to support people who have been found guilty [of an offence]. The institutions must act responsibly.

“A number of problems at KMC-run wildlife facilities can be solved if it sets up an autonomous body comprising wildlife experts and government officials to look after the affairs of the zoo and Safari Park. This is what we had suggested to the KMC administrator last year,” she said.

Interestingly, the KMC had recently imported two pairs of Bengal tigers and white lions through an animal supplier without acquiring the mandatory import permit from the NCCW. The animals were released by the customs authorities on an undertaking by KMC officials that the NOC would be provided as soon as it is available. But the NCCW has not issued any NOC since their arrival over 10 days ago.

The delay has reportedly been caused due to an inquiry requested by the NCCW to verify if Three B Enterprise and Osaka Traders are the same companies. Two cases of wildlife trafficking were pending against the Osaka Traders, the sources said, adding that the wildlife department records showed that both companies had same business address.

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