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KARACHI, March 18: The federal government has advised the Sindh government not to process any request for the import of big cats – lions and tigers – belonging to the endangered species, it has been reliably learned.

Sources said that the federal environment ministry took the decision as the Sindh Wildlife Department was delaying the matter of taking punitive action against the wildlife traffickers who had brought big cats from Africa and Europe in the country last year.

In a strongly worded communication, sources said, the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife asked the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) about the status of wildlife trafficking cases involving the ‘import’ of tigers and lions.

Under the procedure, a wildlife importer has to apply to the SWD to get permission for the import of endangered species. The SWD on its part surveys the health, safety and other facilities available with the importer to see if they are up to the mark. Once satisfied, the SWD forwards the application with its recommendations to the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, Islamabad. After reviewing and evaluating the request, the NCCW issues the NOC / permission for the import of the endangered species.

The sources said that a large number of tigers and lions were brought in the country last year by some influential wildlife traffickers without getting the mandatory permissions from the provincial and federal wildlife authorities. The Customs department also cleared the contraband consignments of endangered species animals without checking the mandatory permissions.

The sources said that the endangered animal species were smuggled through the country’s busiest airport and the agencies were not even aware of the ‘import’ going on right under their nose. They came to know about the clandestine operation only after the matter was reported in the press.

In the communiqué to the SWD, the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife expressed concern over unchecked entry of an unspecified number of carnivorous animals into the city. The SWD has no knowledge of the illegal arrivals whatsoever as the department officials did not inspect the facilities where these endangered species animals were supposed to be kept.

The latest communication can also be seen in the backdrop of an incident that occurred some time back when a couple of chimpanzees, which were kept at a house on Tipu Sultan Road, escaped and created panic on the road. Police were immediately called in instead of the rescuers from the zoo or the wildlife department. The trigger-happy cops shot dead one of the chimpanzees, while the other was caught and relocated in the city. The animal was killed at a point-blank range, sources said.

The SWD or any other government organisation did not take any action against the ‘wildlife lover’ who had kept the chimpanzees without getting the mandatory permissions from the relevant government departments and in the process had threatened the lives of his family, neighbours and the animals.

The sources said that the federal government’s advice came as a step to avoid a reoccurrence of such an incident that risked the lives of citizens as well as the endangered animal species. In the strongly worded communication, the SWD was advised not to forward any application for the import of tigers or lions until the inquiry report about the last year’s cases of wildlife trafficking was completed and submitted to the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, Islamabad.

Responding to Dawn queries from Islamabad, an NCCW official confirmed that such an advice had been communicated to the Sindh Wildlife Department. The provincial authorities had been asked to submit a report regarding the smuggled lions and tigers and not to forward any fresh request for new import permissions till the final disposal of these cases, which unfortunately had not yet been done despite a lapse of considerable time, he added.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sindh Wildlife Conservator Ghulam Rasool Channa, too, confirmed that he had received the federal government’s advice regarding the ban on fresh import requests till all the previous cases were disposed of. He claimed that investigations in these ‘imports’ were still going on and the reports would be sent to the federal government as soon as the investigation was completed.

The sources said that the contraband consignments of tigers and lions had been brought in the country by three ‘importers’ — A.W. Brothers, Osaka Traders, and 3-B Enterprises. However — and the SWD has not even confiscated the smuggled lions and tigers so far let alone take stern action against the wildlife traffickers who had brought a bad name to the country in the international community of nations. South Africa, one of the countries from where the animals were brought, has approached Pakistan asking it to return the carnivorous cats smuggled from there.

The sources said that unless stern action – like heavy fines, long prison terms, and confiscation of the “imported” wildlife -- was taken against the wildlife traffickers, this menace could not be checked and the nefarious activity would continue bringing bad name to the country.