Three rare white peacocks have been rescued by Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) recently at the India-Bangladesh border. Bird traffickers operating from Bangladesh were attempting to smuggle the birds across the border into the Indian state of West Bengal.
Officials at the Nadia district’s BSF were patrolling the Burnpur-Matiari international border in the early morning of Friday the 2nd September when they found two men hiding in the woods. Upon the interception by the BSF troops, the men fled the scene, leaving behind two bags containing the peacocks.
The security forces announced on Twitter that they had received specific information alerting them to the exotic bird trafficking operation.
After feeding the birds, the BSF personnel handed the peacocks over to the Forest Department. From there they are to be taken to either the Alipore Zoo in Kolkata or released in the Bethuadahari Wildlife Sanctuary in Nadia, according to Deputy Ranger, Pradip Bagchi.
Given that the peacock is the national bird of India, a BSF representative has said that the proper dealing of this issue is a matter of pride for them. He acknowledged the significance of the vulnerability status of the white peacock and asserted that the BSF will be taking this and future smuggling events very seriously.
White Peafowl are a rare variation of the common blue Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus). They have a genetic condition called Leucism and are not often found in the wild. White peafowl can be all white or pied with patches of colour. Albino peafowl, on the other hand, are even rarer than the white peafowl – and with no melanin at all they can be recognised by their red eyes.
In India, the blue peacock has great cultural and religious significance, particularly for Hindus. Although this species is not considered to be threatened, there is a large illegal market for the feathers used for decoration, for meat and traditional medicine.
One study of online media reports from between 2013 and 2018 found 46 cases of illegal peafowl trade across India. These cases included approximately 400 deceased birds and 370 kg of feathers. This is of great concern as it perhaps only represents 10% of the actual illegal trade going on, according to the authors of the study.
Shockingly, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in India, large birds including peafowl have been an increasing target for the meat trade. Although, research conducted by the anti-wildlife trade group Traffic with the support of the WWF, indicates that the overall trade for pet birds came down during lockdowns from 14% to 7%, due to reduced transportation and markets.
To demonstrate the nature of the scale of international smuggling operations, earlier this year, 2.1 million peacock feathers were seized by Indian authorities in an attempted smuggling operation destined for China.
Despite being given the highest degree of protection under India’s Wildlife Protection Act (1972), the demand for peacock feathers is so great that it is fueling poaching even beyond India’s borders. This incident of the white peacock smuggling from Bangladesh is just one of many, demonstrating the international scale of this problem.
If the peafowl is being targeted in this way despite its protection level in India, it is surely indicative of the conservation status of other illegally traded bird species.