A common sight in India's markets, birds dyed to look like rare and exotic species are a growing problem for both conservation and animal welfare.
By Moushumi Basu
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 10, 2016
KOLKATA, INDIAStroll down the lanes and alleys of Kolkata’s Galiff Street on any Sunday morning, and you’ll see hundreds of wild-caught native and exotic birds for sale, crammed into wire cages of all shapes and sizes. You’ll hear a cacophony of bird calls and flapping wings. From their makeshift stalls, traders shout all kinds of bird names, vying for customers’ attention.
When I went there in July, I saw jet-black hill mynahs with their neon orange beaks, finch-size green avadavats with their yellow bellies and zebra-striped flanks, lovebirds, cockatoos, and various parakeets.
There were even chicks in improbable shades of flamboyant orange and green. A local vendor peddling a cage full of them said they were the babies of rare birds, in great demand as pets.
Pet birds have long been a part of Indian culture. Folktales and royal texts are replete with mynahs, parrots, and pigeons that adorned imperial courts and entertained wealthy families. Today the birds are still popular as pets, and they increasingly feature as good-luck charms at weddings and other celebrations, where they’re released into the air.
A blanket ban on the sale and export of native Indian birds has been in place for the past 25 years, yet the wildlife trade-monitoring group TRAFFIC has recorded more than 450 of India’s 1,300 native bird speciesfor sale in domestic and international markets.