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EMA moves against Scarlet Ibis poachers

Published: 
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
$100,000 fine or two years in jail
Scarlet Ibis in the Caroni Swamp recently. Photo by:Courtesy Eric Ferguson

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is moving to increase the fine for poaching the national bird, the Scarlet Ibis, to $100,000.

The move come in the wake of reports of increased poaching of the birds at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary and a public outcry from nature lovers to stamp out the illegal practice.

Chairman of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Nadra Nathai-Gyan said the EMA has embarked upon a programme to protect the Scarlet Ibis and illegal hunters can even face up to two years in jail if caught.

In a release issued yesterday, the EMA stated that Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat, supported by Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, have asked the authority to expedite the process to designate the Scarlet Ibis an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS) in light of the increased poaching incidents at the Caroni Swamp, which has been threatening the protected species for years.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Rambharat stated: “I am happy to say that the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has agreed to give priority to my request for the Scarlet Ibis to be declared an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS) under the Environmentally Sensitive Species Rules and for the Caroni Bird Sanctuary to be declared an Environmentally Sensitive Area in accordance with Environmentally Sensitive Area Rules.

“The mandatory 30-day period for public consultation will be announced shortly. In line with what I said needs to be done, once declared an ESS, the fine for poaching the Scarlet Ibis would be $100,000—that is one hundred times the existing fine—with the possibility of up to 2 years imprisonment.”

Last week, three poachers were charged under the Conservation of Wildlife Act for hunting the birds. Some poachers have been selling the birds three for $100.

Yesterday Nathai-Gyan said this undertaking by the EMA would see poachers facing a punitive fine of $100,000 and possibly a two-year imprisoned term. The current fine is $1,000.

“This is one hundred times the existing penalty which is the punitive measure needed as part of enforcement measures to prevent the decimation of the Scarlet Ibis in the Caroni Swamp. The poaching is, in fact, impacting on the bird population. And it needs a criteria to designate an ESS. This new fine will see poachers facing the full brunt of the law. Poachers are so dismissive of the current fine. They take it as a big joke. However, the fine alone will not suffice. We will have to ramp up our enforcement strategies to protect and save these birds,” Natahi-Gyan said.

As an additional measure, she said the EMA was also examining the increased protection of the Caroni Swamp, habitat for the Scarlet Ibis by designating it as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) under the Rules established in 2001.

Also, an opportunity for public comment will be announced following the completion of the notice as prescribed in the ESS Rules, Nathai-Gyan said.

Once the comments have been gathered over a one-month period, Nathai-Gyan said Rambharat will take to Cabinet the ESS and new fines for approval.

“That would automatically mean that the new fines would apply. This would also obligate the EMA to provide resources and assist the Forestry Division who will remain the managing authority for these birds.”

Although the Caroni Swamp is already protected through its designation as a Ramsar Site of International Importance (in 1993) and as a prohibited area under the Forests Act, Nathai-Gyan said the ESA designation would provide additional protection and benefits.

Asked if this ESS was a bit too late, seeing that the bird population had dwindled significantly over the years.

“No, it’s not too late because it’s not all gone. We can protect those that are there,” Nathai-Gyan said.

Having visited the sanctuary three weeks ago, Nathai-Gyan said she observed the birds were not roosting on the trees.

“They were in another location probably due to disturbance of their habitat. This we have to change.”