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KARACHI, Aug 6: Legal status of the four big cats imported for the Karachi Zoological Gardens and Safari Park more than 20 days ago is still unclear, as the Sindh wildlife department seems to have made little progress in its probe to determine credentials of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) contractor who had brought the consignments, sources told Dawn on Monday.

The KMC had imported the animals — two pairs of Bengal tigers and white lions — last month at a cost of Rs17 million without acquiring the mandatory import permit (no-objection certificate) from the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW). The white lions and tigers had reportedly been imported from South Africa and Belgium from captive breeding facilities, respectively.

The sources said that customs authorities at Karachi airport cleared the consignments after KMC officials submitted an undertaking that the import permit would be submitted as soon as it was available. Interestingly, the sources added, no date was mentioned in the undertaking.

“The investigation is in process and will take some time as the wildlife conservator to whom I had assigned the task is focused on the peacock deaths in Mithi these days,” said Sindh Wildlife Secretary Mushtaq Ali Memon.

He expressed surprise over the animal import in the absence of an import permit.

About the allegations that he had allowed the KMC to import the big cats, he said: “Being a government officer, how could I commit such a blunder? They [KMC officials] had been coming to us and we had told them that the NCCW was solely responsible for granting permission for animal import,” he said.

The sources said that the process to grant import permit to the KMC had been initiated when the animals arrived in the city but had to be withheld on media reports, which indicated that the animal supplier had questionable credentials.

Surprisingly, the animal supplier was not the KMC that had applied for the import permit rather a private firm, Three B Enterprise, whose details were not disclosed by city government officials, the sources said. Contrary to past practices, the KMC itself had requested for the import permit though it had planned to bring the animals through a commercial animal supplier, the sources added.

Taking notice of the issue, the federally-administered NCCW authorised to regulate the import and export of wild flora and fauna into the country sent a letter to the provincial secretary of forest and wildlife and the wildlife department with a request that investigations be carried out into the credentials of the KMC contractor who brought the four big cats to Karachi for the zoo and Safari Park.

The provincial authorities were also asked to see whether the Three B Enterprise and 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 Malir district court, according to Sindh wildlife department records.

It also needs to be recalled that the zoo had bought a pair of pumas for Rs2.75m in June this year from a firm which was blacklisted by the NCCW in 2009. The firm, Marine World, had brought two pairs of white tigers into the country without acquiring the mandatory import permit.

CITES In May, President Asif Ali Zardari had signed the Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Fauna and Flora Act, 2012 in order to give effect to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). With the signing of this act, the CITES got a legal cover in Pakistan also and actions violating the international treaty can be challenged in a court of law. Earlier, only no-objection certificates were required under the trade policy.

On import into Pakistan, the bill clearly states that the import into Pakistan of any specimen, included in any appendix, shall require the following, namely; the export permit on a re-export certificate issued by a designated authority; and an import permit or no-objection certificate issued by the management authority (which in this case is NCCW).

It also says that any specimen included in the appendices found in possession of a person without legal permit or certificate shall be confiscated and the person shall be punished as provided under Section 3 (imprisonment for a term not less than one year or more than two years or with fine not less than Rs500,000 or more than one million rupees) of the law.

“It’s a major development as the CITES has got a legal cover for the first time in Pakistan. Earlier, we were just a signatory to the international treaty,” said Uzma Khan, Director Biodiversity, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), head office in Lahore.

Expressing her concern over the big cats’ trade, she said that the conditions mentioned in the CITES for import of big cats were not being fully implemented in Pakistan. For instance, she said, the international treaty didn’t allow the Appendix 1 species (for example tigers) to be imported for commercial purposes and stated that the trade of such species should exclusively be for research and education purposes.

“To bring a species through an animal dealer with exorbitant prices means using it for commercial purposes. Even if it’s a captive breed that comes in the Appendix 2 (for instance lions), the CITES doesn’t allow the international trade for commercial purposes, according to my understanding.

“Being in the CITES’ Appendix 2 means that the trade mechanism can vary depending upon the import law of a country. For example, some countries only require an export permit for import, while others like in the case of Pakistan require both import and export permits,” she said.

In the light of the CITES, she said, the NCCW also needed to look into the suitability of facilities where animals were to be kept, availability of expertise at that place and also their past record of keeping such animals.

“The CITES requires the management authority of a country to look into the care of the animal being imported and the NCCW should be able to reject the request for an import permit if it’s not satisfied with the standard of animal keeping of the zoo interested in bringing the species,” she observed.