Published 8 December 2015


TRAFFIC highlights illegal wildlife trade at Sonepur Fair, India

New Delhi, India, 8th December 2015—TRAFFIC has issued an Advisory alerting enforcement authorities to illegal wildlife trade activities at the Sonepur cattle fair held in Bihar State. 

Rose-ringed Parakeet was the most frequently observed native bird species for sale at the Fair © David Cook

TRAFFIC’s investigations have revealed several incidents of wildlife trade in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972. Parakeets, Hill Mynah, bulbuls, doves, munias, Shikra and other protected species of Indian birds have been found for sale at the Fair, which the Advisory describes as a hub for illegal trade in bird species. 

Sonepur Fair is reportedly the largest cattle fair in Asia and has immense cultural and sacred significance. However, the Fair is also seen as an opportunity by illegal wildlife traders openly to sell protected species of wildlife.
TRAFFIC observed at least 26 protected Indian bird species for sale in 2014 and 18 in 2013. Sales take place through the Chiriya Bazaar located at the Fair.  
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri has been the most commonly seen bird species at the Fair followed by Black-headed Munia Lonchura atricapilla, Red Munia Amandava amandava and Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria, with numbers ranging from 7000 individuals on display at a time to 2500 individuals. With trade in non-native (exotic) birds being used as a cover for the trade in indigenous birds (owing to weaknesses in relevant legislation and policy), the extent of bird trade at Sonepur Fair is of concern.
TRAFFIC also observed 37 Asian Elephants Elephas maximus at the Fair in 2013, including six tuskers and six calves and 39 elephants including five tuskers and five calves in 2014. Capture and transportation of the elephants to Sonepur is a regular occurrence with reports confirming that many of the animals were transported from Assam to Bihar for sale at the Fair in contravention of the law.

Rhesus Macaques Macaca mulatta and Hanuman Langurs Presbytis entellus were also found on sale along with other mammals such as Black-naped Hare Lepus nigricollis, Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus and Indian Porcupine Hystrix indica.

Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC in India said: “It’s unfortunate to see open violation of the wildlife laws at Sonepur Fair year after year.  There is no doubt that the Fair has evolved into a hub for illegal trade especially in indigenous bird species. TRAFFIC recommends co-ordination among various enforcement agencies such as the forest department and police in Bihar and other associated States for appropriate action to end illegal wildlife trade that threatens the future of many endangered and protected wildlife species.”

TRAFFIC’s Advisory recommends prohibition of elephants on the fairground premises and also gradual phasing out of the elephant display. Importantly, agencies need to maintain adequate checks on the animal and bird inventory at the Fair, to ensure that no protected species are being sold. Efforts should be made to collect more data on wild animals traded and displayed at Sonepur. The continuous presence of effective wildlife law enforcement staff during the entire Fair would significantly help according to the Advisory, which also recommends publicity campaigns to educate the buyers about the legality of the trade and the legal implications for both buyers and sellers. 

This year the Sonepur Fair began on 25th November and will last for a month.