KARACHI, Sept 8: While the Sindh wildlife department is ‘observing’ silence over the legal status of the big cats currently housed in the zoo, correspondence between government departments over the past two months shows that the wildlife and forest secretary had also endorsed a request of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation for the import of animals brought to the city without a mandatory permit in July, sources told Dawn on Saturday.
The letter released from the secretary office, according to the sources, is dated July 11 whereas the animals arrived three days later at Karachi airport. The letter addressed to the ministry of climate change, forestry wing, and a copy of which was also sent to the provincial wildlife department, endorses the KMC’s request for the import of big cats.
They termed the initiative on the part of the wildlife secretary ‘unusual’ saying it was the provincial wildlife conservator’s job to forward such a letter to get the mandatory permission from the National Council for Conservation of Nature (NCCW), part of the federal forestry wing, for animal import. That was already done on June 27, two weeks earlier when the letter was sent from the wildlife secretary office.
The provincial wildlife conservator in a letter to the conservator wildlife, ministry of climate change, forestry wing, states: “The mammals (lion, tiger and hippopotamus) are not included in the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972, Schedule-II (protected animals).
“The Sindh wildlife department has no objection if the permission is granted in favour of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (to) import the aforementioned mammals from South Africa, Belgium and France to Karachi, Pakistan. If these mammals are included in any appendix of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), permission may be granted after fulfilling the CITES requirements and the import policy.”
The hippos’ import has been delayed.
The provincial wildlife authorities, sources said, faced an embarrassing situation as they supported the KMC request for animal import without making an inquiry that the importer was not the KMC but rather a private contractor against whom the wildlife department has been fighting a wildlife trafficking case for many years and a court had also issued arrest warrants.
Political pressure, sources said, was the main factor which led to compromise wildlife laws and which explained the delay on behalf of the department to reply to the NCCW that had requested it to make an inquiry into the credentials of the KMC importer in mid- July.
KMC-Three B link
The KMC imported two pairs of Bengal tigers and white lions from South Africa and Belgium on July 15 at a cost of Rs17 million for zoo and Safari Park without acquiring the mandatory no-objection certificate from the NCCW. The lions were reportedly purchased at a cost 10 times higher than their actual cost.
The customs authorities at Karachi airport cleared the consignments after KMC officials submitted an undertaking that the import permit from the NCCW would be submitted as soon as it was available. No date, however, was specifically mentioned in the undertaking for handing over the NOC (for which the customs authorities have already sent two reminders to the KMC).
On July 13, the NCCW asked the provincial wildlife authorities to inquire about the animal supplier who was said to have questionable credentials according to media reports. Officials had to look into whether the Three B Enterprises and the Osaka Traders, another commercial animal supplier, were the same firms. Both companies are accused of wildlife trafficking and fighting these allegations in different cases pending in the Malir district courts, official documents showed.
Sources expressed surprise over why the KMC hid the fact that the importer was a private firm, the Three B Enterprises, and showed itself as an importer in all official papers. This action on part of the KMC, they said, was contrary to past practices.
There is one official paper, though, which showed a Three B Enterprises-KMC connection.
A letter addressed to the additional collector (custom), Jinnah International Airport, by the senior director for culture, sports and recreation department, dated July 15 reads: “M/s Three B Enterprises are the authorised representative to clear the above consignment on behalf of Safari Park and Karachi zoo, KMC.”
Records show that the wildlife department filed a first offence report against Kamran Ahmed, proprietor of the Three B Enterprises, on Nov 8, 2007 on charges of illegally importing a pair of tigers, three lions, from Czech Republic under different sections of the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972.
Replying to a wildlife department’s letter on Jan 29, 2008, Kamran Ahmed says: “We would like to inform you that all Pakistani exotic bird and animal importers have been importing the species without an NOC. All importers had been continuously engaged in animal import on the basis of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) export permit along with health papers only.”
A challan of the case was submitted by game officer Nazar Hussain at the Malir district court the next year. The accused got his animals released from Karachi airport, the court papers states.
The court of the second civil judge/judicial magistrate, Mohammad Ashfaque Mughal, Malir, had issued a bailable warrant for the arrest of the accused on April 28, 2008.
The business address of the Three B Enterprises mentioned in the CITES permit is of (759 Block 18) Federal B Area, Karachi, which was the same as mentioned by the Osaka Traders run by Irfan Ahmed, another animal supplier, in his expired import permit of 2008 that he showed while importing four big cats to Karachi in 2010 (a case was registered and pending against him).
Sindh wildlife officials, including the secretary and the relevant KMC officials, were not available for comments.
The city government had bought a pair of pumas for Rs2.75m for the zoo this year from a firm, the Marine World, which was blacklisted by the NCCW in 2009 for illegally bringing white tigers into the country.
It also purchased four elephants — which had actually been gifted to the children of Karachi for educational purposes by the Tanzanian government — for Rs10 million each from the Osaka Traders.
Though the issue was highlighted in the media, nothing happened. Sindh Local Bodies Minister Agha Siraj Durrani on the floor of the assembly while responding to a question had said that the deal was transparent and no irregularity had been committed.
Given the complicity on part of government departments, a wildlife department official on condition of anonymity said hat it was not surprising that nothing had come out of the inquiry sent to the Federal Investigation Agency by Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, about Osaka Traders credentials a few months ago.