Moonilal called on the Forestry Division to review the entire system and make recommendations which he would take to Cabinet and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
“There must be much more punitive measures against poachers who seek to heartlessly destroy our wildlife including our national birds, both the Scarlet Ibis and the Cocrico. The ministry will embark on a zero tolerance drive on poachers,” Moonilal said.
The issue of illegal hunting reared its head when several persons were found guilty by a Chaguanas magistrate last Friday — four days before the country celebrated its 48th Independence Day anniversary — and were each fined $750.
Six persons, including an American citizen, appeared before Third Court Magistrate Margaret Alert with the American being reprimanded and discharged. The other five, who are from La Paille Village in Caroni, were found guilty and fined with the alternative to the fine being 21 days imprisonment with hard labour.
They were arrested and charged for being in possession of protected animals on December 30 2007 at the Caroni Swamp by game wardens Samsundar Ramdeen, Richard Ramlogan and Nicholas Leith.
According to Game Warden II Ramdeen, this is the first time in the country’s history that persons were convicted for hunting one of TT national birds, the Scarlet Ibis. Ramdeen revealed that in the last ten years, the population of the scarlet Ibis has been greatly depleted due to habitat loss, pollution and hunting.
Ramdeen described the fines as “primitive” as it ranges from one hundred dollars to $1,000. He called for stiffer penalties and suggested a minimum fine of $25,000. “Such a hefty fine will surely be a deterrent for poachers,” Ramdeen said. Ramdeen also suggested that legislation be put in place for hunters/poachers to show their catch to game wardens for inspection before they leave the swamp or hunting grounds. “Especially in the swamp, poachers have a habit of plucking and chopping off the heads of Scarlet Ibis birds in an attempt to escape prosecution. They know fully well it is illegal to hunt the Scarlet Ibis. We need to get more serious about protecting our wildlife and its habitat,” Ramdeen said.
“The Scarlet Ibis is hunted by many prominent persons who are supposed to set a better example. Many Trinidadians hunt these and other birds and wildlife just for the thrill of it. Of course others hunt for the delicacy of having bush meat as the main course.
“If we don’t do something quickly and put measures in place and implement new laws and stiffer penalties, our national birds will be hunted out and we will then be forced to look for another national bird,” he warned.
Ramdeen said he has made a request for officers of Forestry Division to meet with Moonilal and added that although he did not get any feedback on his request, he is “very hopeful” of meeting with Moonilal
The Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), locally known as “flamingo,” makes its home in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary in the Caroni Swamp — an area set aside by the government for the protection of these colourful birds.
The Caroni Swamp includes 15,000 acres of marshland, tidal lagoons, and mangrove trees. Several thousand Scarlet Ibises nest and roost in the sanctuary and are often seen in large numbers during the last two hours of daylight. Tobago’s National Bird, the Cocrico (Ortalis ruficauda), also known as the “Chachalaca,” is a rufous-tailed, tropical pheasant indigenous to that island. They tend to inhabit the higher areas of the island amidst the forest and sometimes the dry scrubby lands bordering cultivated areas.