Four young gazelles smuggled to Karachi in small baskets were seized at Cantt railway station on Wednesday after someone tipped off the Sindh wildlife department about the illegal trade of the endangered species.
The desert gazelles were transported from Bahawalpur on the Khyber Express as part of cargo registered under fictitious names, said Mumtaz Soomro, who was part of the raid. “We couldn’t capture the people involved in the smuggling bid,” he said, showing off the gazelles being kept in a locked room of the department’s Din Muhammad Wafai Road office. “They are smart but we are going to look for them.”
A man named Shahid had booked the spot on the train from Bahawalpur while another man named Amir was supposed to collect the gazelles in Karachi. The animals are one-and-a-half years old and have been brought in two pairs of a male and female. “One pair could cost around Rs40,000,” said Soomro.
The team was on the lookout at Landhi and Drigh Road railways stations as well. The smugglers had tried to hoodwink the authorities by making sure the cargo was dropped on other side of the platform. “They were not coming out of the baskets even when we had brought them to the office,” said another official. “They are docile. Maybe someone tried to domesticate them.”
The number of gazelles in the wild, mostly the Cholistan desert, has dropped over the years due to uncontrolled poaching and smuggling. Trading and hunting is prohibited and the Sindh wildlife department no longer issues licenses allowing people to keep them as pets, explained Dr AA Qureshi, a former director of the Karachi Zoo and wildlife expert.
“It’s an indigenous breed found in Bahawalpur, Khairpur and Thar. We used to have so many of them. They are almost extinct now,” he told The Express Tribune. “And they are very fast, hard to be caught.” A gazelle’s leg is very thin and easily breaks if the animal is mishandled, he warned. “They are captured in groups from the wild in the most brutal ways. Some die because of a broken neck or leg. Others can’t survive the journey cramped in small boxes.” Used to living in the wild, gazelles do not easily adapt to a change in environment and often stop eating in reaction. “There are people in the Middle East who are willing to pay a really good price for these animals. But then even people in Karachi keep them as pets.”
Buying a possession permit for endangered and exotic species is not difficult in Karachi. The authorities rarely take action against private zoos and those who keep such animals as pets in their homes.
The Sindh wildlife department will release the gazelles in Khirthar National Park. An FIR has yet to be registered.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.