Trapping Birds

Of the 1,300 protected bird species of India, at least one-third are trapped and openly sold in for food, sport, caging, so-called release or black magic.

 

The State of India’s Birds 2020 report released during the international conference CMS COP13, stated that 867 species had been assessed and found that many birds were on the decline but few species were thriving. Interestingly, the house sparrow population was stable (and had been so for the past 25 years) although they were no longer found in abundance in urban areas.

The business of trapping-transporting-trading in birds is dependent on gangs across the country beginning with the very poor and ending with, may be the richest. For example, the Chirimar, Mirshikar and Baheliya are poor communities of North India involved in illegal trapping of birds (and animals) that are sold to the first rung of city traders.

Although protected under wildlife laws, parakeets (there are 12 species of protected parrots in India) are
the most trapped – mainly those less than a month old. Since 1991 there has been a ban on trapping, trade and export of Indian birds. Beauty Without Cruelty is proud to have initiated it. But, unfortunately, it is still not satisfactorily implemented because of loopholes in the law. There is no ban on trading of caged birds born in captivity, nor on foreign bird species.


A 2001 report stated that 8,000 birds were illegally trapped in India every day and about 50,000 traders earned their living from these hapless birds. It is obvious that bird-poaching is flourishing (more so today even though World Wide Fund for Nature says only 7,00,000 are illegally caught in India every year) because the country’s 118 bird sanctuaries are unable to give them the much required protection. It is also flourishing because of the demand for live birds. Forest-captured and captive-born birds (who have lost their natural instincts) are sold not only for release, but as ‘pets’, to kill for meat, medicine or black magic, for bird-fights and taxidermy.

 

Adequate protection is definitely lacking because birds in sanctuaries, lakes and zoos have lost their lives due to bird flu. For example in October 2016, at least 20 died beginning with 5 ducks on the Hauz Khas lake followed by 12 water birds in the Delhi zoo and 3 crows in Sundar Nagar. Samples tested positive for bird flu.


Tricking and Catching Birds


Birds are caught in the wild, mainly by certain tribes who for generations have been trapping and selling birds. They initiate children and teenagers, hoping the forest officials will not arrest minors. Some of the means and methods utilised by them are stated below.

Shooting: If it doesn't matter whether the bird to be trapped comes to hand dead or alive then, air guns, catapults and spears are commonly used. Certain tribes are adept at spearing birds. They use a six-inch pointed needle-like spear called takkva which they throw up fast, hitting the bird. It suffers and bleeds to death.

Bird lime: Since bird lime spoils the plumage it is only used for trapping birds which are to be killed soon.

Choona (slaked lime) mixed with Peepal tree sap which forms a thick adhesive substance, is applied to slender long branches. Or, the bird lime could be latex or lhasa made by boiling Peepal tree sap with mustard oil.

The bird lime is applied usually to bamboo which is surreptitiously brought close to the birds – immediately the end of the sticky branch touches a bird, it gets stuck to it. Unable to escape, fear and panic follows.

Some times lime sticks are placed outside roost holes and birds are disturbed by clapping or by hitting the trunk of the tree. The commotion makes tricks them into coming out, and when they do, they get stuck to the bird lime. They hang on the sticky bamboo, unable to move.

Traps: Another method that also utilizes bird lime is laying dome-shaped traps made from such sticky and non-sticky sticks. The contraption includes a dangling string at the end of which a live insect like cricket is attached. Any bird that tries to swoop down to catch the suspended and swaying insect, is itself unsuspectingly trapped because it touches the bird lime. In place of insects, mice are some times used. And, quite often, these bird lime sticks are set up along with a female decoy bird whose distress calls attracts many males of the specie, thus making the process easier and faster for the trapper; but, extremely cruel for the creatures involved.

Some traps are made of wire. And, fall traps are used with female decoys too. Not only does the door of the cage collapse, but a net falls upon the bird when it alights on the cage. Many get injured and suffer a lot. Release may not be death.


Nets:
In addition to nets which are laid down, using birds as bait to attract other birds is also a common practice. For example, the grey francolins that are trapped en masse.


Made of jute netting and thin bamboo sticks, clap-nets are operated from a distance with long strings. When many birds gather at the spot, the concealed net is made to fall upon them making it impossible for the birds to fly away. Fear and panic sets in.

Mist-nets are also set up in jungles. Every bird that flies into them, including migratory ones, get unexpectedly entangled. They too panic and struggle to escape and get injured. For example between October and April the migratory yellow-breasted bunting and the red-headed bunting are trapped in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and parts of Jharkhand.

 

Fine mosquito nets called vadap spread over 4-5 kilometres of water, like over the Ujani Dam within the Bhigwan Wildlife Sanctuary, are used to poach fingerlings and endangered birds. Although the javelin is banned, torches and javelins are utilized for specially killing maral at night. These fishermen poachers use half-boiled rice mixed with chemicals to kill the fingerlings which results in unconsciousness and therefore making it easy to collect them. Migratory birds such as the flamingo, grey heron, water hen and white heron are killed by these poachers using the fingerlings mixed with poison. In addition, nets are set up at particular heights over the surface of the water and special structures are made of bamboo and net called phase which trap birds off the dam banks. Blasts of water using grenades kill big fish and birds too. It is also common for bows and arrows to be used to kill birds in this area.


In 2021 nets were laid to protect the 5 crore saplings that were planted over 2,000 hectares of land in the Sunderbans mangroves in order to reduce the impact of cyclones, although no trees had allowed to be planted inside mangroves since 1990. It is the norm that no trees should be cut in forests, but surely it should also be the norm that no trees should be planted in them either. The nets obstructed their movement of wild animals and birds, and landed up trapping many including deer and wild boar.


In winter 2014 beaks, feathers and bones of poached flamingos were found in Uran (Navi Mumbai) – they were hunted with gulels/catapults and even openly with long barreled guns for their flesh sold as “special chicken meat”. Flamingos are also captured with the help of net traps.


It was estimated that at least 1,20,000 migratory Amur falcons (from Siberia en route Africa) were illegally killed in Nagaland every year. Fishing nets that are 30-40 metres long and 10-12 metres high were erected in the area where the birds roosted at night. (During the day they sat on the transmission lines so could not be captured.) Every morning hunters transferred the captured live birds into mosquito nets or cane baskets and transported them to markets on poles. There their feathers were plucked (like chickens) and their bodies smoked for a long shelf life.

 

In 2012-13 a programme to help the Amur falcons was launched by conservation organizations as a result of which within just one or two years the birds were considered guests by the very people who used to hunt them for their meat and feathers. Local watch squads were formed consisting of ex-poachers from the villages to prevent hunting, especially during roosting. Ecotourism as an alternate source of livelihood was also promoted. However, for BWC the sad aspect is that as an additional incentive to make hunters stop killing Amur falcons, 1,000 chickens were given to over 30 families of hunters and landowners to start poultry businesses. For BWC every bird matters, not only migratory wild ones – why should chickens be bred to be killed just to save others from being hunted for their flesh?

In November 2018 it was reported that in Gundbala in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, people were laying down nets across freshly harvested paddy fields, or strung across bushes and trees, in order to trap parakeets and other birds to be sold in nearby markets. This proved that such almost invisible, but strong nets were not only used for capturing birds in forests but also in farmlands. Such nets don’t capture birds alive, but since the birds get entangled in them, their frantic struggles result in mutilation and injury to their bodies and wings, and legs fracture resulting in pain.


“Bird-lovers” also trap birds in nets: No different to what poachers do, birds are also caught in nylon mist-nets put up on the trees they visit by “bird lovers” who band/ring/tag wild birds. There is a Bird Banders’ Training Programme run by the Bombay Natural History Society which admits that the birds do undergo stress, injury and even death. Though there are newer techniques like radio collaring, metal ringing or banding of birds is increasingly being used around the world as a so-called major research tool in which a small band or tag is tied to the birds’ legs and helps track their movements. The trapped birds are weighed and their wings, bills, heads, torsos and tails measured and noted along with their shapes, sizes and colours which often indicate if males or females. Beauty Without Cruelty feels it is traumatic for the wild birds to be handled by humans, and crueller still to tag them with rings made of aluminium alloy (they carry unique identification numbers). Birds need to be left alone in their habitats. Knowledge gained through banding (usually after the bird is found dead and records shared) is not worth the suffering inflicted upon the birds.

For example, in 2013 some wildlife activists were justified in objecting to the permission granted by the Maharashtra Forest Department to the Wildlife Research and Conservation Society to extend and repeat at Melghat in Maharahstra, the research on the forest owlet they were undertaking in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh. Trapping birds for banding, especially when only about 400 were left (100 of which were in Melghat according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) was needlessly putting them through stress that would result in changes of their characteristics which in turn would hamper their population growth.


It is not commonly known that birds also get caught in nylon nets or wire mesh fixed for ventilation in buildings (it is in fact called bird netting!) or as fencing, so it is best not to use such netting that traps birds. Pigeons have been seen hanging on such nets and if the fire brigade is not called to their rescue they linger and die of hunger, thirst and panic.


Noose: A traditional method is a kind of slip-noose attached to the back of cattle taken to graze in and around forest areas. The noose works with the movement of the animal’s tail. Quite often the trapped bird’s leg fractures. Such severely hurt birds are left to their fate – they suffer, linger and die – due to pain, hunger and thirst.


Another noose method is when small birds are kept as bait in cages on the ground, around which well hidden plastic nooses are laid. When a bird lands, its leg get entangled in a noose. In trying to escape, it may break it.


Snares: Concealed on the ground, in foliage or placed near the eggs in nests, snares aim at trapping unsuspecting adult birds. A snare cuts into the body of a bird and the more it struggles the deeper it cuts. It is quite likely that the bird suffers amputation and bleeds to death. Earlier poachers used creepers and bamboo traps, now they utilize binding wires used for construction work, wires from solar fences and bike clutch cables because they are cheap, effective and easy to hide. (Hundreds of barbed wire snares laid down by poachers have also killed or seriously injured tigers and leopards in the forests of India.)


Nest-breakers: Nests are located, raided, and chicks stolen. This is done by climbing trees and literally picking up the little birds with bare hands, or with the help of hooks if unable to reach inside. Some times, the birds are smoked from one side and captured in a net as soon as they emerge.


Trappers raise the chicks imitating their mothers as much as possible: they line a basket like a nest, tap on the side before dropping insects in the chicks’ mouths, and even go to the extent of making them snatch insects from their own human mouths just like they would from their mothers’ mouths.


Sold Online


In September 2021 BWC sent e-mails to the CEOs of many online sellers of slingshots/catapults/gulel and air-guns/rifles & bullets pointing out that they were weapons used for hunting and can obviously cause injury and loss of lives to both wild and domesticated animals and birds, even to humans if targeted. They can not be considered toys or even fall under the category of sports. BWC also requested that they not sell books on hunting because they impart knowledge on how and where to find wild life in order to kill them. We drew their attention to the fact that by selling such items it attracts the provisions of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and the seller becomes a part to abetment.


BWC sent a detailed e-mail appeal to Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart, ShopClues, Bloon Toys, Desertcart, 24seven India, Ubuy India, Order2India, Cart2India, My Web Store Shopping, Eassymall, etc. requesting them to stop selling these items. We also alerted the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Director of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry followed by the Animal Welfare Board of India.


Desertcart immediately replied: “Will raise that to our IT team to have it removed on the website.” Ubuy’s reply was also greatly appreciated: “We already informed the concerned team to remove the products which are mentioned in the letter with immediate effect and will ensure that no seller will be allowed to sell such products on our website in the future.”


The biggest offender Amazon responded that as per their policy they did not allow the sale and listing of such products, but in order to stop it asked BWC to send URLs of those products that were objectionable! BWC sent them 17 pages full of URLs. The reply received from the Counsel for Amazon Seller Services Pvt Ltd states among several other things that “Our Client has, in accordance with its policy and obligations under law, reviewed the 142 URLs that you have shared vide Your Email. You are hereby informed that on the basis of this review, our Client has taken down a total of 21 product listings, out of the 142 identified and provided by you, which met the bar of restriction as per our Client’s policy.”

Hunting Peacocks


Trapping turns into hunting when the birds are killed in traps, or poisoned. Some poachers use bright lights to attract peacocks (India’s national bird) and catch them quickly as they can hardly fly.


Groups of peacocks are frequently found dead after consuming pesticide laced grain and seed – intentional or unintentional is any one’s guess. The “attraction” is their beautiful coloured tail feathers, with their “novelty” meat being a bonus for the poachers.


Killing a peacock is strictly prohibited and results in imprisonment up to seven years plus a fine since it is listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.


(Incidentally large wildlife is also poached via poisoning. For example, in 2013-14 the Heritage Animal Task Force estimated 78 elephants had “mysteriously” died in Kerala’s forests having being killed with poisoned pineapples, jackfruits and mangos. Whereas, tigers, leopards and others are poached using leg snares known as kharakha.)


Human Birdbrains


To the misfortune of parakeets, roadside fortune tellers have not stopped keeping them. Despite the birds which are always found in a very poor condition, being confiscated by the police and taken to rescue centres, the activity some how continues. For example, in December 2013, forest department personnel caught 11 rose-ringed parakeets (a protected species under the Wildlife Act) at Bengaluru’s Sajjan Road Circle fair. Confined to tiny cages, they were dehydrated, their wings (including primary feathers) had been clipped, and the claws and feet of some had been amputated.


In Bengaluru these fortune tellers who hail from Tamil Nadu, live in Goraguntepalya. Way back in 1999-2000 they were raided and 160 parakeets had been confiscated from them but they did not give up their practice. During the breeding season they themselves poach fledglings from their forest nests and train them to pick cards.

 

The solution obviously lies in educating people into not relying on innocent parrots and munias also trapped and trained to pick cards, to predict their future. These birds should also never be released into the wild because most can not even fly and they would definitely not know how to survive on their own.


Protection


Thanks to strong, expanding conservation movements in the North Eastern states people have pledged to protect wildlife. Hunters have turned conservationists. Earlier, it was an honorable custom for people to hunt for food, sport and adornment, and trapping and targeting birds with catapults was a common pastime. Killing wildlife (stags, bears, bisons, tigers included) was supposed help them attain paradise after death. But this has changed and people have pledged to protect their forests and wildlife and become custodians of their own forests.

In December 2021 the Prime Minister lauded in Mann Ki Baat that Arunachal Pradesh was home to more than 500 species of birds and to protect them a campaign to surrender air guns was underway with more than 1,600 guns having been surrendered. The Forest Department had taken this initiative after they realized the growing grave threat to wild birds due to such weapons being easily accessible online.


The Nyishi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh used to hunt the Hornbill mainly for its beak which was used with pride in their headgear. Now Hornbill nests are located in forests and boards are nailed on the trees which house them so that within a radius of 100 metres human activity is discouraged. Man-made headgear with fake Hornbill beaks and feathers that have been promoted are very well accepted.

Similarly in Nagaland, for the first time in 2013, the Amur falcons were not poached by villagers but allowed safe passage. Realizing that their children may never get to see magnificent stags, villagers from Noksen, Tuensang district, have stopped hunting them for sport or food.

In 2018 there was a “change” story of Odisha poachers turned protectors. Earlier they poached birds at Mangalajodi and sold their meat but then gave it up and became a part of an eco-tourism model linked to the Chilika wetlands that is being showcased across the world and began earning in thousands during the bird watching seasons.

Mizoram’s successful zotheihuan (garden of Mizo fruits) covering large areas in different parts of the state, where no human activity is allowed, has resulted in a resurgence of wildlife; and streams provide water to adjoining villages.

In 2012 the Rajasthan state government declared the area around Keoladeo National Park (formerly the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and now also known as the Ghana Bird Sanctuary) as a silent zone. This was done to provide a serene habitat to the park’s birds and give protection to migratory birds. In addition, it would no doubt be a deterrent to bird poachers as birds here were declining. Hotels, guest houses, marriage venues, etc. surrounding the park would need to abide by new rules that banned loud noises up to 500 metres around the periphery of the park. Bursting fire crackers, blowing horns, playing loudspeakers and music through any instrument would draw punishment under sections of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.


Transportation


Transportation of birds is as much illegal as is trapping. It is therefore done in a clandestine manner with little or no care or concern shown for the birds that suffer and die en route. Bamboo or wire baskets containing birds with no legal documentation are loaded onto trains at particular railway stations with plans made to receive them at the end of these inter-state journeys. Other means, methods and ways of secretly transporting birds go totally undetected since routes and modalities are frequently changed.


Markets


Caged birds are in demand and sold all over India, but the illegal bird trade flourishes in
• Kolkata: Shakher Haat and Chiriya Haat on Galiff Street, Hatibagan and Hoga Markets
• Mumbai: Crawford Market
• Delhi: Jama Masjid area, behind Red Fort, INA Market, Moolchand crossing, Minto Road and Noida
  Sector 18 market
• Lucknow: Nakhas Market
• Meerut: Bird Market
• Hyderabad: Mahboob/Murgi Chowk at Old City Bird Market
• Patna: Mirshikar Toli Market
• Chennai: Kozhi Market on Maskan Chavadi Amman Koil Street, near Broadway

Trapped birds even land up for illegal sale at the Sonepur Animal Fair in Bihar.

All these markets are much the same. For example, a 2014 investigation of the trade in Chennai threw up some shocking facts. This weekly pet market at Maskan Chavadi has on open display, in gunny bags, cartons and baskets, different animals and birds that have been illegally captured, smuggled, stolen or unethically bred. Australian lovebirds, African parrots, finches, jungle fowl, mynas, rose-ringed parakeets, pigeons, rabbits, pedigreed puppies and roosters with their legs tied (they’ll be made to fight each other illegally) are some of the creatures that are traded in. Baby chicks dyed in bright colours are pulled out of a large box and stuffed into plastic bags for buyers to carry home as children’s toys. No respect for life – right under the unwatchful eye of the AWBI! (Chennai was the headquarters of the Animal Welfare Board of India and they could have, had they wanted, got the market closed.)

Birds in garish colours like purple, red and yellow, are sold in unexpected places and markets all over India like the “purple munia” which is actually a scaly-breasted munia dyed. In addition to the trauma of having been trapped and caged, making them “attractive” for buyers is in itself gross cruelty.

In 1977, BWC pointed out to the Government that for export painted finches were literally being painted with harmful dyes. Such exports were immediately stopped.

Birds are also smuggled out of India via Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh and it is not done on a small scale, e.g. in 2001 more than 10,000 birds were confiscated at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai.

In October 2019 an Uzbek national was caught at the Delhi airport trying to smuggle 13 parrots in shoe boxes to Tashkent. The confiscated birds were sent to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.

Breeding and selling captive birds is a business – even pigeons: the Kerala Pigeon Society was formed in 2004 with the idea of breeding different exotic breeds of pigeons (the price ranges from Rs 1,000/- to Rs 1,00,000/-) thus creating self-employment to breed and sell them.

One frequently sees birds being illegally sold. But few persons are caught like in July 2018 when an Aurangabad shopkeeper was booked by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau trying to sell 24 parakeets.

A year later in July 2019 several dhabas and hotels on the outskirts of Aurangabad were openly and illegally selling the meat of Grey Francolin (protected bird specie, also called teetar but not the partridge or quail). It was strongly suspected that the Forest Department was hand in glove with the eateries because they had put up hoardings to sell the meat.


Caging and Releasing


Some people feel they are doing a good deed when they buy birds from a pet shop and make them escape their caged existence. Unfortunately they are unaware that this humane act can also back fire to such an extent that the same trader could very well pick up the so-called released bird and re-sell it. Unless born in captivity, these small birds sold in pet shops have been clandestinely transported from different states in India, originating from dense forests where they were illegally and cruelly trapped as mentioned above.

By buying birds for release, a demand is created and money made available for continuing the trade in birds which are doomed to die. Although well-meaning, the exact opposite of what is intended happens when trapped birds are released: birds that were already free in the wild are captured, tortured and released in alien surroundings… so they either suffer and die or survive to live in a cage, jailed for life; and the money paid is utilised to make hundreds of more wild birds go through identical suffering and death.

In 2019 after undertaking first hand investigations, BWC wrote to the Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change and the Chief Minister of Bihar about illegal capture and sale of munnias outside Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya for so-called release, and requested the Forest Department at Patna to take immediate action against the offenders. Details were printed in Compassionate Friend (summer 2019).


Beauty Without Cruelty discourages people from trading in and keeping caged birds irrespective of their origin: wild or captive-born, Indian or foreign. Birds don’t deserve life-imprisonment even if kept in so-called comfort. Prevention (not caging) is certainly better than cure (releasing) and people should desist from caging birds in the first place. Vegetarians should especially regard this as an extension of their principle of non-violence. True vegetarian homes never have birds in cages or fish in tanks.

BWC’s stand on not caging birds was strengthened when in May 2015 a Delhi High Court Judge after hearing both sides of a case involving a bird trader and NGO, stated it was “of the view that running the trade of birds is in violation of the rights of the birds. They deserve sympathy. Nobody is caring as to whether they have been inflicting cruelty or not despite of settled law that birds have a fundamental right to fly and cannot be caged and will have to be set free in the sky. Actually, they are meant for the same. But on the other hand, they are exported illegally in foreign countries without availability of proper food, water, medical aid and other basic amenities required as per law. Birds have fundamental rights including the right to live with dignity and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone including claim made by the respondent. Therefore, I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and all human beings have no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise”.


Foreign Species Exploited

In October 2016 the North India’s Avian Meet organised by the Delhi Avian Club was held in New Delhi. It focused on breeding and hand rearing of different birds, including foreign, exotic ones. The participants did not even think that that breeding birds in captivity was cruel leave alone the fact that some of them were rare abroad. India definitely needs to extend the protection it gives to Indian wildlife to foreign species covered under CITES.

Page last updated on 28/12/21