CHENNAI: Owners of several thousands of exotic pets in Chennai are waiting with bated breath as there are just two days left for the new, amended Wild Life (Protection) Act to kick in across the nation. Once it takes effect on April 1, 2023, owning invasive alien species, including exotic, non-native animals, birds, reptiles and rodents will be a punishable offense. It, however, takes a lenient view towards people who already own exotic pets, provided they make self-declaration of the pets they own.
Once registered, the new law will insulate them, their pets and the progeny of the pets from the penal provisions of the new law. As of 2021, only 1,292 people in Chennai have declared ownership of 10,000 exotic animals, some of which are wild species. An equal number is still to be accounted for. The existing Wild Life (Protection) Act had an anomaly, as it did not have any provision to punish people for illegally importing and owning exotic pets. As of now, an illegally imported animal could be repatriated in the same carrier, but the smuggler goes scott-free, barring the consequences envisaged in the Customs Act. Chennai’s wildlife warden, E Prashanth, explained how non-native animals, including orangutans, had been brought to the city to be transported to Bengaluru. “The demand is enormous, and it is completely unregulated.
From being a transit point, it has now developed its own market. We cannot take action against individuals except under the Customs Act or the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. This amended law will now give us more power, and we hope to put the rules in place once they are notified,” he said. The amended Act makes import and ownership of any of the CITES-covered animal, bird and reptile varieties, that number more than 30,000, a punishable offense. The fate of exotic pets living in Chennai homes is uncertain because the Center is yet to release details like what are the consequences of the self-declaration – should they intimate officials about every birth/death, will the undeclared pets be confiscated and, if so , where will they be housed and which vet will treat them in captivity.
The state forest officials say there is no need to panic. “An amnesty scheme is likely to be announced, allowing individuals to declare ownership of these animals,” said Srinivas Reddy, Tamil Nadu’s chief wildlife warden. Chennai has not only become a hub for exotic pet species but also has a well-oiled network of transporters, smugglers, breeders and owners, thanks to the large population of affluent animal-lovers, and good connectivity via road, air and water. Rather than risking their lives by transporting animals from Thailand, Africa, North America, and South-east Asia, traders in the city now breed them in godowns, farms, and other facilities, TOI founded.
Twelve-year-old Radha of Trichy saved `25,000 to buy a ball python she spotted at a pet shop in Chennai a few months ago. She is yet to make the purchase. Her family may not be able to own an exotic pet if they don’t bring them home before the April 1 deadline.

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