Poachers are running wild in the swamplands of Felicity, hunting and killing one of T&T’s national birds, the Scarlet Ibis, sometimes by the dozens, daily.
Because that area is not protected like the tourist attraction-designated Caroni Bird Sanctuary, poachers are making a killing, literally, selling hundreds of Scarlet Ibises at the almost giveaway price of five for $200.
Although the fine for poaching or even being in possession of one feather of Scarlet Ibis was raised to $100,000 when the bird was declared an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS) in July 2018, one bold poacher told Guardian Media he is not afraid of the law.
The self-professed poacher, who met a Guardian Media team on the banks of the Madame Espagnole River in Felicity in February, ironically while we were doing an environmental piece, explained how he used pieces of cloth to trick the birds into landing into his nets.
“The black mangrove branch, you taking a piece and banning it up with red cloth, and you cutting a long rod and chookin up on a tree to bring them down and then you setting up the net,” he said.
“So you making decoys and when they flying and they go to land, they can’t see the net and fly straight into the net. But nowadays you not using red decoy alone, you using the black and white to represent the young one and the black egret and using the red to represent them, so when they look it does be like a whole feeding frenzy and when they land–they land straight inside the net.”
He said the nets are made from clear nylon and the unsuspecting birds often fly into it with such force that they are immediately killed.
“Sometimes they head does chop off when they hit the net. The net is a fine net–is the same kind of nylon you does use to make sinkers so they not seeing it -plenty of them does get dey head cut off.”
He revealed the shocking scale of his poaching when asked if he thinks the risk of being caught is worth the money he earns from the sales.
“Nah, I not worried bout the police. You know how much time police come down here and meet we and we normal, normal. I outside fishing normal and I have my thing set up inside and I dey, them ent know what going on the other side…and the rangers, they doh see we and they doh hear we. Them have to fraid we cause when we go is 108, 117, 97, 84, 70…like that we bringing out when we bringing.”
He said recently he made a “small” cook with relatives after a small catch of birds.
“The other day we cook a few by my cousin–we didn’t hold much, only about 30, you could curry or curry-stew it, it doh really have any special way to cook it.”
He said he has also caught and sold the Flamingos, which have been coming to Trinidad from South America in search of food.
Those birds, he said, sell for $400 and up, as they are much larger in size and more difficult to catch.
Contacted on the issue, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said game wardens and police are doing all they can to stop the illegal hunting of the Scarlet Ibis.
“It is because of the hunting of the Scarlet Ibis, the Ibis was made an ESS, and the fine is now $100,000. We recognise there are many points of entry and exit to the Caroni Swamp and we have ongoing activities, some are very confidential,” he said in relation to the latest issue raised by the Sunday Guardian.
He said in recent times police and game wardens have executed warrants at the homes of a number of known poachers but have so far come up empty-handed.
Asked if there is going to be any move to step up patrols in the Felicity area with this new information, Rambharat said the ministry is taking different steps to deal with the issue, as the poachers usually just wait for the wardens to do their patrols and leave before going out to hunt.
“There is need to not just have patrols but to make use of intelligence. We have information but most times that information does not lead to any evidence or any arrest but we continue to work. Some of these people, we know them by name, we know their addresses, we have executed warrants on their homes without finding anything.”