Bengaluru & Tiruchy new routes for TN’s exotic animal smugglers

Due to greater vigil in Chennai, runners choose other airports with similar travel time
The exotic species are in hot demand and are sold for several lakhs, especially to the affluent ‘pet lovers’ in Bengaluru, sources said.
The exotic species are in hot demand and are sold for several lakhs, especially to the affluent ‘pet lovers’ in Bengaluru, sources said.

CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu smugglers who bring in exotic wildlife species from Thailand and Malaysia to India through Chennai international airport have started using Bengaluru and Tiruchy airports as well due to greater vigil by Chennai Customs, said multiple sources and official data.

Officials are investigating the business links between Chennai smugglers and traders in Bengaluru who illegally sell the animals via social media and supply these to pet shops and zoos. The exotic species are in hot demand and are sold for several lakhs, especially to the affluent ‘pet lovers’ in Bengaluru, sources said.

Chennai Customs have regularly been seizing exotic animals like non-native snakes (ball pythons, horn-pit viper), iguanas, and monkeys (marmosets) from Bangkok passengers since 2019; data shows in 2022-2023 and 2023-24, the number of seizures was 13 and 18, respectively.

However, Bengaluru Airport Customs had zero seizures in 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22. As per official data, one seizure was recorded the next year, at least four in 2023-24, and two more later, all from passengers arriving in two specific flights at around 11pm and 12am. This is similar to the seizures at Chennai, mostly from passengers who arrive in midnight flights.

Sources in Chennai Customs said tighter vigil in the city has forced smugglers to think of new airports through which they can take the contraband. Pointing to a case in August 2023, where 47 pythons and two lizards were seized from a man who landed from Malaysia at Tiruchy, a source said this indicates smugglers moving to this airport too.

Travel time from Bangkok to Chennai/Bengaluru/ Tiruchy is almost the same. This is a key factor as the animals, stuffed inside a perforated check-in baggage with chocolate wrappers or soft toys, may die if the flight time is longer.

“Usually, the carriers are passengers from coastal districts,” said a source at the Bengaluru airport, citing a case in August 2023, where a Ramanathapuram man landed from Bangkok with cobras, baby crocodiles, lizards, tortoises, and a baby Kangaroo.

Chennai sources said they have gathered evidence on city smugglers sending exotic animals, including the deadly caiman and cobras, to pet dealers in Bengaluru even through public transport. Investigators in both the cities have identified dealers on social media, where potential buyers are enticed through photos of these animals, sources said.

Sources also pointed to a 2023 case where the arrest of three smugglers at Bengaluru airport led the revenue intelligence team to a Chennai house where 135 wild animals were found.

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