Investigation raises questions on zoo transfers to Reliance-run Vantara

Several consignments of trafficked wildlife were apprehended by law enforcers and moved to zoos but most of them ended up in Vantara, as per an investigative report by Himal Southasian magazine.
Anant Ambani
Anant Ambani
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An investigative report in Himal Southasian magazine sheds light on the smuggling of exotic wildlife to India through porous borders in the northeast. While several such consignments trafficked to India were apprehended by law enforcers and moved to zoos, many of them ended up in Vantara, an initiative by Reliance to ‘rescue’ and shelter wildlife, the report by M Rajshekhar said.

Vantara is located in the premises of Jamnagar petrochemical complex. The facility entered media limelight during the pre-wedding celebration of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant held in the first week of March 2024.

While until 2018 most of the trade originated in India and was destined to countries like Myanmar, China, and Vietnam, the flow has reversed now and new supply chains are bringing these animals in, the report said. The exotic species includes kangaroos, and reptiles, birds, and primates from South-East Asia and Latin America.

Once caught, the birds and animals are sent to the nearest state-owned zoo in Guwahati or Aizawl. What happens next is another recent change, as per the Himal report. Most of these ‘rescued’ animals are relocated to Jamnagar from the zoo in Assam.

The Himal report said that in four years, Vantara has registered a huge growth and now boasts of a gigantic assemblage of endangered species, and a workforce of 2,700 that manages it. The facility has 3,889 birds and animals belonging to 134 species in its custody, as per the annual report for 2022–23 by the Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which has partnered with Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust.

The Himal report also raised questions regarding transfer of wildlife made to Vantara, which identifies itself as a rescue facility, from other zoos. The Sakkarbaug Zoo in Gujarat’s Junagadh sent 101 leopards to Jamnagar between March 2021 and March 2023. The reasons for transferring such a large number of leopards were unclear, the report said.

In 2022–23, Greens listed a total of 160 transactions where it received wildlife. Some of the birds came from state zoos in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Nagaland.

Read the full report on Himal Southasian here.

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