Over 7,000 birds were found hidden under caned baskets atop the roof of a passenger bus travelling to the metropolis from Larkana, said officials of the Sindh Wildlife Department in Feb 2021. The birds were taken into custody and then released into the wild in a span of few hours.

A passenger coach, named Al-Riaz Coach, was intercepted by a SWD raid party acting on a tip-off near the Punjab Bus Stand in Sohrab Goth area.

Upon finding dozens of caned baskets on the vehicle’s roof and thousands of wild birds, common sparrows, mynas and nightingales – bulbul in the common parlance, the SWD teams questioned the passengers and the coach driver. But no one came forth to claim ownership of the birds. “We arrested the bus conductor and seized the birds,” said Inspector Aijaz Noondani.

Subsequently, the SWD teams lodged an FIR against unidentified persons and released the conductor after a few hours and a penalty of Rs 20,000. “The bus owner has signed an affidavit,” said Noondani, adding that he assured the SWD that he would not be transporting birds or animals in the future.

The raid was conducted on a tip-off. “We were already in search of such activity for the last few weeks,” said SWD Chief Conservator Javed Ahmed Maher.

According to Maher, the initial inquiry suggests that the birds were captured in Dadu district. They were loaded onto the coach in Mehar – a small town in Dadu.

The SWD teams later released over 7,000 of the seized birds into the wild on the outskirts of the city a few hours later amid fears that the birds could have died due to suffocation.

Poachers Undeterred

Commenting on the matter, a wildlife official said that the birds, especially sparrows, were to be sold to persons who butcher them for their meat. “We have just come to know that some people eat sparrows,” said the official.

Similarly, the birds freed after the raid included some smaller ones that can typically be found with hawkers at various spots in the port city. They are sold at prices ranging from Rs 20 to Rs 50.

“At least 80 percent of such trade has been reduced,” claimed Noondani. He stated that selling such tiny birds was a routine practice a couple of years ago. “Selling and trapping wild birds is completely banned,” he added.

Despite the ban on trappings, poachers, mostly in Dadu district, have been involved in the trade of birds.

In a similar incident in 2020, the SWD team raided a train near the Radhan Station in Dadu district and recovered over 12,000 wild birds. Some local officials seem involved in the trade. That’s the reason the trade still continues.

Noondani said that his teams were continuously monitoring and conducting raids against such trade.

“The trappers have recently adopted a new strategy and use passenger coaches who then supply them to shopkeepers,” he said. 

Subsequently around 6,800 wild birds were found atop a passenger bus headed to the metropolis from Larkana in March 2021.

Acting on a tip-off, a raid party of the Sindh Wildlife Department intercepted the bus at the Pakistan Rangers checkpoint located near the Jamshoro Toll Plaza at 4.10 am. The SWD officials found an estimated 6,800 birds, including common sparrows and nightingales – bulbul in the common parlance.

The birds were taken into custody and then released into the wild after a few hours of rehabilitation.

Lone travellers?

Upon inquiry, the SWD team found no one willing to claim the birds. The birds were travelling to Karachi without any owner or guardian it appeared. The real culprits were not in the bus.

After taking the birds into custody, the SWD officials detained the bus conductor, Rashid Ali Mirani.

According to Noorani, the bus conductor informed the SWD officials that a man named Essa Macchi had handed over the birds and loaded them on the rooftop. “Mirani will bring Machhi to our office or will lodge a complaint against him,” said Noondani, adding that the bus conductor was released after signing an affidavit.

After tending to the captured birds for a few hours, the SWD official released them in the Milani Forest located near Hyderabad city.

In both incidents, the birds were loaded onto the bus in Mehar – a small town in Dadu district.

According to SWD officials, the villages from where captured birds are being sent to Karachi have been identified. A majority of poachers live in Mahar, where some villagers have been involved in the activity for years, said Noondani.

“We are working hard to convince poachers to abide by the law,” said Noondani, adding that there is a complete ban on poaching.

However, despite the ban enforced in February 2019, thousands of birds have been recovered by SWD teams from different locations, indicating that poachers are yet undeterred.

“The check from our office is very strict,” said SWD Provincial Conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar, said.

The SWD officials claim that seizing the property – birds and baskets – of the poachers during raids results in a hefty financial loss for those engaged in transporting wild birds to big cities.

Noondani maintained that the best way to discourage the wildlife trade was to seize the property and impose heavy fines. “When we seize the property, it breaks down the poachers badly,” said Noorani.

He added that in the current case if the suspect is not brought before the SWD, the bus owner will be held responsible for the crime.