The Punjab Wildlife Department has banned the hunting of sparrows and other birds released as a charitable ritual and ordered the arrest of trappers, impose heavy fines on them, and release the birds.
The department also banned trapping of birds with nets in forests and selling across Punjab, including Rawalpindi Division.
Citizens free these captured birds by paying a huge amount as charity while the trappers hunt these birds with nets in the forests and then sell them in the market to earn money. Nine hunters were arrested in Chakwal and Jhelum and imposed a fine of Rs169,000 on them. They also released all the birds.
Rawalpindi Region Deputy Director Arifa Batool directed officials concerned to take action and arrested 14 hunters and fined Rs140,000. They also seized wild pigs, wild pigeons, quails, and sparrows from their possession.
In order to prevent the hunting of visiting aquatic birds, the staff members of the Punjab Wildlife Department have ensured strict checking in the six districts of Rawalpindi Division, Rawalpindi, Murree, Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal and Talagang.
The secretary has issued orders for the immediate arrest of the trappers and the registration of cases against trappers.
The pay-to-set-them-free business is prevalent across major cities of Punjab, including Lahore, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi but despite the harm it causes to birds, the provincial wildlife department has done little to curb the practice. For millions of birds across Punjab, freedom often comes at a price and many do not even survive the captivity they are subjected to by poachers looking to profit from their misery.
Consequently, poachers with caged sparrows, crows, pigeons, bulbuls can be seen roaming around crowded areas. The illegal business has increased manifold in recent times.
For instance, in Lahore there only used to be about 4 such dealers involved in the business, a few years ago. Now there are dozens and many work in connivance with lower level employees of the department. The poachers take advantage of the lack of implementation of laws and illegally capture the birds from different parts of Punjab.
Chaudhry Shafqat Ali, former director of Punjab Wildlife, said that these birds are mostly caught from Shahdara Forest, Changa Manga, Jalu and Canal Road, and India-Pakistan border area. Budar Munir, Member of the Punjab Wildlife Board, termed this illegal poaching right under the noses of the department, as a failure of the government.
“There used to be campaigns against poaching and the illegal business of taking money to set birds free but all of those have been discontinued,” said Munir, adding that the government needed to take strict legal action against those who subjected birds to such cruelty. “If Punjab Wildlife cannot take action alone, it should seek the help of the Punjab Police,” suggested Munir.
On the other hand, Salim, who sells birds on MM Alam Road, inquired that if the police took action against his only source of livelihood, “then how will I survive?” Salim whilst acknowledging that putting birds in captivity was wrong, said that he was not a poacher but rather bought the birds from dealers located in Data Darbar, Tollinton Market, and Canal Road. When asked how much money he made from the misery of the birds, Salim sheepishly, replied, “the rates vary. In the areas of Data Darbar, Lari Ada, Shalimar, a bird and a pair of crows are released for Rs 200, whereas in areas like Defense and Gulberg, people pay up to Rs 1,000 to free the birds.” It is pertinent to mention that bird-sellers like Salim often escape trouble because they deal in birds, like crows, that may not fall under the schedule of protected birds, like crows. Therefore, catching these birds is not an offence under the Punjab Wildlife Act. Despite the loopholes in the Act, a spokesperson of the Punjab Wildlife, said that the department regularly takes action against such bird-sellers.
The people should avoid engaging with such traders who profited from birds’ misery. Instead of paying to free the birds, they should immediately report such traders to the department or the police so we can take action.