Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

A few days ago someone wrote to me from Mumbai saying they lived next to a person who kept cats in his flat. They complained about the smell. I sent a team to the gentleman’s flat, thinking that he was that dreadful human subspecies- the hoarder. A person who piles on animals because he is mentally unsound and starves them to death while being a nuisance to everyone around. But he wasn’t. A sensible person who is regarded with great respect by everyone – including the woman who complained – he takes in animals that are hurt or ill. He nurses them back to health and releases them, gets them adopted or keeps them if they are crippled. All the cats were sterilized, clean and healthy. But there was a strong smell. The complainant was apologetic but she said she could not live with it.

This is the third or fourth case that has come to me from Mumbai about cat smells. Two sisters kept cats and this so infuriated the landlady, who lived next door, that she came in at night, destroyed their apartment while they were away at work and threw out the cats. They were left homeless. The landlady has to now give almost a crore in damages.

Cat urine odour is a problem. Let’s look at reasons and solutions. If you know anyone who has a problem, you could send this to them.

Cats do not hunt, eat or sleep in groups like dogs. They mark territories and avoid each other whenever possible. They have no systems for deciding face-to-face disputes, so, to avoid them, they communicate indirectly by leaving messages – one of which is urine marking. What area belongs to them and over what period of time, whether they want mates.

If their world is predictable, there are no conflicts, they are neutered and they don’t need a mate, cats have little reason to mark and probably will not. But, if they want a mate, or are distressed about something, they’ll deal with their distress by marking territory.

How do you make out urine marking?

Urine marks are usually sprayed on vertical surfaces. The cat backs up to a vertical object. like the side of a chair, a wall, or a stereo speaker, stands with his body erect and his tail straight up in the air, and sprays urine onto the surface. The urine smells pungent because it contains extra communication chemicals.

The more cats who live in a home, the more likely it is that at least one of them will urine mark.

This behaviour can be triggered by any change: new people, getting another animal,  remodelling the kitchen, changing work hours, having a baby, even a new coat.

A cat is not challenged by another cat, he is stressed by his inability to deal with the intrusion. If a cat is prevented from avoiding the other cat, he will become increasingly stressed and mark often.

First, neuter all the cats. The best way to minimize conflict is to divide the food, water, litter boxes, in different places across the house, so no two of them are near each other.

Conflict can often be reduced simply by providing more perching areas so that all cats can have a place away from the others. Creating space can be as easy as clearing window sills or shelves, or purchasing multiperch cat trees.

The second problem is how to make sure the cats use litterboxes to urinate /defecate, rather than do it all over the house. Buy them from a pet shop.  If the litter box is unclean then cats, being very fastidious, will not use it and then the whole house is used like a bathroom. Scoop the box daily. Dump out the litter, wash the box with soap and warm water (no ammonia-based cleaners), dry it and put fresh litter in. Try a litter deodorizer that can be either sprinkled or sprayed on the litter itself daily. Kitchen baking soda is non-toxic. Carbon litter box liners are helpful in bringing down such odours.

The rule is one litter box per cat, plus one. If you have one cat, you need two boxes. If you have four cats, you need five boxes. Keep the boxes in different locations in your home. Don’t put a box in a small enclosed area, like a tiny bathroom, closet or under the stair cupboard. which will concentrate the smells and make the cat feel trapped. A larger, well-ventilated area is best in a quiet area, away from your cat’s food, or anything that can startle your cat while he’s using the box.

At least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination, or defecation, but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. If your cat isn’t comfortable with her litter box, or can’t easily access it, she won’t use it.

Investigate possible medical issues like diabetes, kidney diseases, or urinary tract infections, that might cause her to eliminate outside of her box:

Other reasons: The box is too small for her. It has a hood or liner that makes her uncomfortable. The litter is too deep. Cats prefer one to two inches of litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter, dislike the smell of another. Old cats, or cats with physical limitations, may have a difficult time using certain types of litter boxes, such as top-entry boxes, or with high sides.

The majority of cats prefer large boxes that they can enter easily. Plastic storage containers make excellent litter boxes. Most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter. Offer different types of litter in boxes placed side-by-side to allow your cat to show you her preference.

Some cats just like certain places, like carpets or bedding. Make these areas less appealing to stand on by putting rubber mats, plastic sheets, tin foil, or double-sided sticky tape.

If your cat has experienced some kind of frightening, or upsetting, event while using her litter box, she could associate that event with the litter box and avoid going near it. If she is afraid she will run into the box and leave again very quickly, sometimes before she’s finished eliminating. Or eliminate nearby, but not inside her box. In order for your cat to learn new pleasant associations, move the litter box to a new location, or add a few litter boxes in different locations. Pick locations with multiple escape routes so that your cat can quickly leave her litter box if she suddenly feels anxious.

Vary the litter. Use a finer or coarser texture. Leave treats and toys for her to find in the area leading to her box. Don’t put her food bowl next to the box because cats usually don’t like to eliminate close to their food.

Incorporate the use of sprays or diffusers that deliver a synthetic pheromone that has been shown to have some effect in relieving stress in cats.

Reduce the chances of your cat peeing at inappropriate areas: When your cat pees outside her litter box, instead of yelling or punishing her, immediately place her into the litter box. Do this every time she pees outside and pat her on the back when she pees in the litter box..

Despite all this, if the cat is urinating at places other than the litter box:

a)  Blot up as much of the urine as possible with a cloth towel. Don't rub the stain. If it's dry, pour cold water on the stain, and blot. Avoid detergents with ammonia as this encourages your cat to mark the spot again. Make a water and vinegar solution for both old and new stains. 1 1/2 cups of warm water and a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Pour this concoction over the stain and soak for about 3 to 5 minutes.. After the water and vinegar solution is dry, sprinkle the area with baking soda (a lot). Let the mixture dry for a few hours. Once the spot is dry, vacuum the excess baking soda. If the stain is tough, repeat the entire process again.

b)  Mix 3/4 cup of three percent hydrogen peroxide with 1 teaspoon of dish detergent. Sprinkle this solution over the baking soda and test a small spot, because sometimes peroxide can discolour fabrics. Work the baking soda into the fabric or carpet. Let the mixture dry. Vacuum after a few hours.

c)  Make a Spray Bottle:

a. 5 oz Baking soda

b. 1 teaspoon White vinegar

c. 1 teaspoon Hydrogen Peroxide

d. Half a teaspoon of Orange essential oil.

Mix the ingredients in a bowl and put them in a spray bottle. Shake the spray bottle, spray the solution on the affected area and let it dry. The powdered dried solution can be vacuumed later. Repeat until you witness results.

d) Mix 1 cup of baking soda with six drops of an essential oil of lemon or any other citrus fruit. Sprinkle the mixture on the dry affected area and leave it overnight. Vacuum the area in the morning and the odour will be gone for good.

e) For walls and cement flooring, wash the area with an ammonia free cleaner and wipe it clean with fresh water. Mix ten portions of water to one portion of bleach solution and put it in a spray bottle. Keep yourself well protected by using gloves and keeping the area ventilated. Spray this mixture on the walls and flooring and let it sit for thirty seconds or so. Wipe it off with a clean damp cloth.

f) Wrap a couple of charcoal pieces into a newspaper and place them in the affected areas of the house, and keep the house well ventilated. Let them be for a few hours and the odour will disappear.

h) Non-toxic air fresheners are available from pet and health stores..

i) Plants, like spider plants, are  effective at filtering ammonia from the air and removing bad odours.

j) Enzymatic cleansers, designed to neutralize pet odours, can be found at most pet stores.

k) Before washing your clothes, rinse the pee area with cold water. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to the detergent. Dry in the sun.

l) If cats pee on potted plants, place a couple of orange peels on the soil. Cats hate the smell of oranges.

m) To cleanse the air in a room, leave an open cup of vinegar to neutralize any bad smells. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

A study conducted by Princeton University says that there has been a 36% rise in antibiotic use in all countries over the last 10 years – except in India, which has seen a rise of 62% and is now the largest consumer of antibiotics in the world.

If these antibiotics were simply being taken by Indian people, then a public campaign and regulations for doctors could stop it. But 70% of these antibiotics are being fed to sick chickens, who are then fed to Indians. This is an extremely dangerous situation.

When one is consistently exposed to an antibiotic over a period of time, the body develops a resistance to it. If the person has been eating it in chicken frequently, then when he really falls sick, the antibiotic he takes will have no effect on him. What his body now has is the “ superbug”, an infection that cannot be removed by an antibiotic. A person can die of a common cold and cough.

It is predicted that in a few years antibiotic resistant bacteria will have killed 1 crore people around the world and 47 lakh individuals will be from Asia. In India most antibiotics have stopped working on people. New antibiotics are needed to provide a cure, but new ones are not easy to discover. Only two new antibiotics have been approved for use in the past 10 years, and one of these – ceftaroline – has already started facing the problem of resistance in the first year of its use.

Doctors are falling back on antibiotics that were used and discarded fifty years ago, because they may have cured one problem but they created another. Now the medical community is going to “last resort” drugs - drugs that would otherwise not be recommended are now being seen as viable alternatives, as people have not yet developed resistance to them. One such antibiotic is colistin. Colistin, or polymyxin E, is an antibiotic produced by certain strains of the bacteria Paenibacillus polymyxa. Colistin is very effective against most Gram-negative bacilli. But it is no angel.

Colistin was introduced in the market in 1959 but was abandoned in the early 1980s due to undesirable effects, such as kidney failure and neurological toxicity. Respiratory arrest has also been seen after intramuscular administration of colistin. It can lead to temporary neurological disturbances such as numbness, tingling of the extremities, itching of the skin, dizziness, and slurring of speech.

Colistin is referred to as a ‘last mile drug’, to be used very judiciously only on patients in extremely critical conditions. There is nothing more powerful available at the moment to fight infection. Extreme care must be also taken so people don’t develop resistance to this antibiotic, leaving us with no available alternative.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.  Studies done in Indian hospitals in Delhi and Pune have shown that 5% of patients admitted after outbreaks of severe bacterial infection are resistant to colistin. How have they developed this resistance? A recent example from China can help demonstrate:

In 2015, Timothy Walsh, Professor of Medical Microbiology at Cardiff University and his team discovered a colistin-resistant gene in Chinese pigs. This discovery created panic in the global medical community, as this gene (mcr-1) was capable of creating widespread untreatable infections. It was found that rampant use of colistin in Chinese livestock farming had caused the spread of mcr-1. Shockingly, the gene was found in bacteria from animals and humans in more than 30 countries where Chinese pigs had been exported for consumption.

This is what has happened in India as well. When colistin fell out of favour for human use in the 1980s, the companies manufacturing it started selling it to piggeries in China and poultries in India. Colistin was banned for animal use in the West, so the companies targeted Asia, and tonnes of colistin were shipped to India, Vietnam, South Korea and Russia every year for veterinary use.

Five pharmaceutical companies in India are openly advertising products containing colistin as a growth promoter for animals. Two companies are manufacturing colistin locally. We are importing over 150 tonnes of it every year.

Indian poultry farms are using colistin and going completely unchecked. Why? Because they keep their chickens so badly in small battery cages  – as reported in the Law Commission report on poultries – that they need antibiotics to prevent them from dying before they can be killed. And, as the chickens become resistant to gentle antibiotics, the poultry owners are using more and more dangerous drugs to keep them alive. It is also used to promote the faster growth of chickens so they can be killed sooner, increasing profits. Poultries are increasing the number of chickens they ram into the same space, to make more money. As sickness and resistance increases in the flock, more and more antibiotics are being used. Already Indians are indirectly ingesting the largest amount of antibiotics. This is predicted to increase 5 times by 2030. Owing to the risky nature of colistin itself, combined with its indiscriminate use by the poultry industry, we are heading for a disaster.

Not just chicken (and pig) eaters are now found with colistin resistant genes, colistin finds a number of ways to reach us. Colistin resistant bacteria transfer through the air from these farms and through workers at these poultries. Flies, that sit on the faeces of chicken, carry the bacteria with them for long distances. Colistin in the faeces spreads into the soil and surrounding water bodies, thus seeping into agricultural produce, grown in the area, as well as the water supply.

None of you are complaining, so government takes no action. No raids are done on poultries. No companies selling banned drugs are shut down. Three Ministries are responsible for this huge disaster that is already upon us : the Ministry for Animal Husbandry whose inspectors are corrupt and lazy and treat poultries as a second source of income, the Health Ministry  who is doing nothing to check colistin use and the Environment Ministry which does nothing anyway.

So, colistin is hitting you in two ways : its regular use destroys the kidneys and makes your body toxic. So you have symptoms you cannot explain: skin that itches and fainting spells which are incorrectly attributed to anaemia.  And when you fall sick, you cannot use colistin because you are immune to its beneficial effects. This puts a large part of our population at direct risk, as it rules out the use of the only antibiotic left in the doctor’s armoury.

With a population density like ours, even one person catching an antibiotic-resistant infection can lead to an epidemic. We are on the cusp of a public health disaster. The slow way is to generate awareness among consumers about the dangers of colistin. But what can they do?  The government needs to act.

Poultry farms need to be ordered to immediately stop the use of colistin and all other antibiotics in their production systems. China has banned colistin use. In fact, England’s chief medical officer has called for a worldwide ban on the use of every antibiotic as a growth promoter in poultry.  Antibiotics as growth promoters were banned in the E.U. in 2006, and made illegal in the U.S. in 2017. India has refused to do it, since profit making is more important than public interest. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

The Environment Ministry is increasingly seen as a Ministry that understands nothing about the environment, wild life, water preservation, pollution control. Almost every decision that comes out of it is a destructive one, and it works on the basis of politics rather than science.

Every vested interest in India has understood this and is trying to take advantage. Every local animal / environmental officer has, by now, lost interest in his duties and takes/gives orders that are bad in law and environment. This makes me so frightened for India.

The Chief Wildlife Warden of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the man who is supposed to be protecting the wild animals on the islands, has actually written – the first time in India’s history that a CWW has done so – to the Ministry of Environment, asking to kill the salt water crocodiles on the grounds that a few tourists have been attacked.

Salt water crocodiles are severely endangered and have been given the highest protection in the Act – Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. This Tarun Coomar wants this protection removed so that he can kill them.

One interesting aside is that crocodile skin sells for lakhs. It is smuggled outside the country and sold to make handbags and shoes. Many requests for “culling” have usually got this background and, no doubt, someone is doing business there as well.

Why do I say this? Because the proposal has no basis in science or fact. The Chief Wildlife Warden is lying through his teeth.

Records reveal that only 23 attacks by salt water crocodiles have taken place in the last 13 years, and none of them have been in a single place. They are spread out over the vast archipelago.

In truth, the tourism industry wants the land to build hotels and take over the beaches. So the LG and the CWW take on the role of “facilitation agents”.  Even the figures they have given, of the number of Salties, are far more than what actually exist (and that too, without a head count). Field biologists state that the numbers, being published by the Administration at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, have been falsely stated at 1,700. There are only about 500 individuals. Are these 500 crocs, spread out and so vital to the survival of the inhabitants of the ocean, going to be killed so hoteliers can destroy the coast? 

Here is the proof of “facilitation”. The “Expert Committee” set up by the local administration to find a “solution” to these rare crocodile attacks has no scientific people on it, no field researchers, no environmentalists. But one of the members is the head of the Andaman Association of Tour Operators. This is his statement “The fear has impacted both the tourism and fisheries industries, which are our main source of revenue” said M. Vinod. “Can you imagine a tourist visiting an island destination and not going onto the beach and indulging in water sports?” And if an entire species has to be wiped out so that a tourist can go water skiing, so be it?

Saltwater crocodiles are millions of years old. They are the largest of all living reptiles and can reach 7 metres in length. They are found in small groups in South-east Asia, Northern Australia. In India they are native to the Sunderbans, Bhitarkarnika in Odisha, and the mangrove forests of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They swim long distances. Though they spend much of their time in the water, they must come ashore to warm up in the sun and to nest.

Females lay about 50 eggs at a time, of which only one or two survive even though the mother looks after the nest carefully. Overheating, flooding and predation by lizards, dogs and feral pigs claim a high proportion of victims. Once they have reached maturity their only enemies are each other and humans.

Before the Act was made in 1972, they were poached for their skin, meat and as trophies. The species was reduced to 31 individuals when the Government of India launched a special conservation effort in 1975, Project Crocodile, and they were given ‘Schedule 1’ protection.

While the preservation of the species, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is counted as a success story, the fact is that salt water crocodiles have taken decades to even reach these small numbers. It has taken almost 45 years to grow to about 500 animals. Now, if killing takes place (and if my suspicions are right, they will kill 300 and then claim they have killed 30) they will never revive again, because the gene pool is already stretched, they are all related to each other and, as hotels and tourists fill up the beaches, more and more eggs will be lost.

The move has attracted international concern. There is a great deal of literature on how to deal with man-crocodile conflict, and wildlife agencies are happy to provide the information – except that the local government doesn’t want to know.

This is what can be done easily to protect humans and salties:

a.   Make a thorough study to conduct a risk assessment in the areas where crocodile-human conflicts have occurred.

b.   Geo-tag the crocodiles to understand, and/or track their movement patterns.

c. Create safe swimming zones, creating exclusive crocodile zone (wilderness areas where crocodiles take precedence),

d. Identify rogue crocodiles and put them into captive animal shelters (tourists pay to watch crocodiles as in Australia),

e.   Coexistence zone (where people can be helped with enclosures, fish disposal areas, etc.) and exclusive tourist zone, where there is proper netting for people to swim with regular patrolling and monitoring.

f.     Put up warning signs at crocodile conflict zones.

g.   Raise awareness among local communities, so that they do not see crocodiles as a threat, and secure and monitor tourist bathing areas on a regular basis.

Every year, from 1986, there is no more than one attack annually – if you go by government figures from 1986.  But the number of tourists has increased enormously - from 4,30,000 in 2016 to 5,00,000 in 2017. This has led to unplanned and haphazard growth and increased activity along the coastline. Most attacks occur in narrow creeks near which human and crocodile populations overlap. Even after a number of warning signs, tourists invade restricted areas. No attempt has been made to regulate tourist behaviour. Beaches abroad have life guards. We have none in the islands. We don’t even have wildlife rangers to patrol the crocodile areas.  And these crocodile areas are shrinking rapidly, with human settlements increasingly taking over the crocodile's land.

Most importantly, the attacks take place in the monsoon season which is the breeding season. This clearly shows that there is human encroachment on crocodile territory when a croc is at its most defensive, with males vying for females. Crocodiles are not human hunters.

Local tourist operators claim that there are far more crocodile sightings in human areas round the coast. The dumping of untreated kitchen waste, including raw chicken, fish and meat, by hotels and eateries that have mushroomed along the coast, has never been as rampant as it is now. Such practices draw the creatures. Has the local administration done anything to restrict this?  Illegal slaughterhouses throw blood and offal straight into the waters. This will draw more crocodiles around the area.

Culling is going to have no effect on the human crocodile conflict. Crocodiles are territorial. If an adult male is killed, the vacant area will fill up with other adult males.

Salties are an important check on rodent populations, which are actually dangerous on an island ecosystem and have been brought in by ships. They also prevent illnesses spreading through insects. For example, river blindness among humans was caused by slaughter of crocs, whose young fed on snails which harboured the parasite responsible for the malady.

Salties prevent overpopulation of fish species in coastal regions and wetlands, which is pivotal in keeping these aquatic ecosystems healthy and balanced. Reduction of crocodiles in the Nile has led to great losses in the fishing industry, as there has been a boom in the population of the carnivorous fish and disease carrying fish, which were kept under control by crocs.

Salties play a role in clearing dead animals/fish/offal, keeping the area clean and disease free. 

Crocodile excrement fertilizes the coastal land and waters. The nutrient content of their faeces feeds the invertebrates and the fish. This allows smaller aquatic organisms to thrive. Only when these organisms thrive the bigger fishes can live. Crocodile excreta also helps in the growth of healthy corals.

Down-listing the animal under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and removing the safeguards of a Schedule I species, will severely jeopardize the fate of this species across the country, as it could open up the flood gates for other states (like Sundarbans in West Bengal, Bhitarkarnika in Orissa) to seek permission for culling of salt water crocodiles on similar grounds, depending on which crocodile skin traders have moved in, and how much they pay the local officers. 

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By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Formaldehyde is a chemical which, when mixed with water and turned into a paste, is used for embalming dead bodies and preventing the decay of dead cells. When a human body is given to a professional funeral parlour, for instance, the blood is taken out and formaldehyde is injected so that the deceased looks normal before being buried. People who hunt, or have pets, often have the dead bodies of the animal “stuffed” by taxidermists and kept in their houses. Labs and teaching institutions do the same with cadavers.

It is used in commerce as formalin.

Formalin is a saturated solution of formaldehyde gas in water. It contains 37%-40% formaldehyde gas with a stabilizer.  The most common stabilizer is 10-12% methanol. Methanol is also toxic for humans.

As it is a strong disinfectant and tissue hardener, it is used for preserving biological and anatomical specimens. It is also used as an antiseptic in sterilising surgical instruments.

Can formaldehyde/formalin cause cancer?

As far back as 1980, laboratory studies showed that even sniffing formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. Now the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.

Since the 1980s, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has conducted studies to determine whether there is an association between exposure to formaldehyde and an increase in the risk of cancer. The long-term effects of formaldehyde exposure have been evaluated in epidemiologic studies (studies that attempt to uncover the patterns and causes of disease in groups of people).

NCI surveys of professionals who are exposed to formaldehyde in their work, such as anatomists, embalmers and funeral industry workers, have seen that these individuals are at an increased risk of leukaemia and brain cancer compared with the general population. The study, which looked at funeral industry workers who had died between 1960 and 1986, showed that those who had performed the most embalming, and those with the highest estimated formaldehyde exposure, had the greatest risk of myeloid leukaemia.

An additional 10 years of data on the same workers were used in a follow-up study published in 2009. This analysis showed a possible link between formaldehyde exposure and cancers of the blood and lymphatic systems. Earlier analysis of the NCI study found increased lung cancer deaths among industrial workers compared with the general U.S. population.

A study of 11,039 textile workers, performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), also found an association between the duration of exposure to formaldehyde and leukaemia deaths. Several studies have found an association between formaldehyde exposure and nasopharyngeal cancer.

Research done by Dr. Martin H. Fischer of Rush Medical College, Chicago on the toxic effects of formaldehyde and formalin on humans ( ) shows:

1. The inhalation of formaldehyde gas in even small quantities is followed by bronchitis and pneumonia. Pneumonia is due to the inhalation of the gas and not to secondary infection. Pneumonia and bronchitis are found in all animals after an injection of formalin.

2. Formalin belongs to that rare group of poisons which is capable of producing death suddenly when swallowed.

3. The introduction of formalin into the stomach is followed by the production of gastritis which varies greatly in character. The duodenum and small intestine may also get inflamed.

4. Even a very dilute ( 1-1000 parts) injection of formalin causes inflammation of the stomach lining . Once in the abdomen, formalin exercises a destructive action upon all organs (pancreas, liver, peritoneal fat, fallopian tubes, etc.) with which it comes in contact and causes inflammation in these organs.

5. The injection of formalin into the muscles produces myositis or inflammation of the muscles.

 6. When formalin is dropped into the conjunctival sac a painful inflammation of the iris follows and may be severe enough to destroy the eye.

7. Formalin, in whatever way introduced into the body, is absorbed and capable of producing lesions in the respiratory organs.

8. Changes in the liver after absorption of formalin consist of mild or severe cloudy swelling. Necrosis may result.

 9. The injection of formalin, or the inhalation of  formaldehyde, produces cloudy swelling of the kidneys. Necrosis may result.

10. Animals subjected to chronic poisoning with formalin develop fibrinous peritonitis, associated with marked eosinophilia. Peritonitis is the inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the inner wall of the abdomen and cover of the abdominal organs. Symptoms may include severe pain, swelling of the abdomen, fever, or weight loss.

Why am I telling you this? Because in June 2018 authorities found 9,600 kg of fish, preserved in formalin, being exported to the rest of India at the border check post of Arayankavu in Kollam district. Raids followed. 6,000 kg of fish were found laced with formalin in 8 trucks in Palakkad. 14,000 kg of formalin prawns were found entering Kerala from Andhra Pradesh. Instead of burning them, officials returned the trucks to A.P. and they were probably rerouted by the factory owners  to another state. The state food safety department officials intercepted a cargo of chemical-laced fish from Tuticorin in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The fish, that arrived in two vehicles, included 7,000 kg of prawns and 2,600 kg of other species.

The citizens of Kerala eat 2,500 tonnes of fish every day. 60 % comes from local sources and the rest from other states. The Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) in Kochi has found 63.9 milligrams of formalin in every kilo of fish and 4.1 milligrams in every kg of shrimp.

The office of the Food Safety Commissioner has its hands full. Thousands of kilos of formalin fish and seafood are coming in and out of Kerala every day. They have issued a health warning that says fish vendors have been found to be selling fish products, including crustaceans, treated with formalin. In the last month 28,000 kg of adulterated fish have been destroyed.

Is this a new practice? No. Formalin has been used for many years now to give the appearance of freshness to weeks old fish. First it used to be used when fish moved interstate. Now it is used on all fish which move a mile. Why are the authorities cracking down on it now? Because, while they have been aware of it for years, only now has the CIFT developed a kit to detect ammonia and formalin!

Does this happen only in Kerala?

The fisheries department in Punjab sounded an alert 15 years ago saying that all fish coming from Delhi was contaminated and specifically naming the Pangasius or Basa catfish. The then health minister of Delhi, Dr A.K. Walia, said he was unaware of it and did not take any action at all. Every day about 30-50 tonnes of fish arrive at Ghazipur Fish market from Orissa, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. No checks have yet been done. But whenever a truck has been checked in other states the Basa fish, farmed and exported from A.P., has been found adulterated. It takes a week for the trucks from A.P to reach North India. Between September and March, Punjab consumes nearly 250 tonnes of Basa fish every day, mainly eaten by very poor farm labourers from other states.

As far North East as Nagaland the practice is so prevalent that a notification had to be issued this year prohibiting the sale of formalin-laced fresh fish products. So far the Kohima district administration has seized four vehicles. Nagaland Food Safety Commissioner has prohibited the storage, distribution, and sale of fresh fish products treated with formalin or ammonia, with a fine of Rs 10 lakh for any violations. This includes crabs, lobsters and prawns. Assam has put a ban on all fish entering it, after they found  formalin in all the fish. Odisha has issued an order to collect fish samples from all markets after they found  formalin from the Unit IV fish market on July 13th. Maharashtra is bringing in laws to regulate the fishing industry which will now make it mandatory for all fish sellers to get licences, and which lays down norms on prohibited preservatives. There is currently no law about sale/purchase/transport/storage/use of preservatives and where fish should be dried.

Fish sale has increased by 5.6% in the last year alone. You will find that the sale of formalin has increased by ten times that amount. Which means a similar increase  in abdominal pain, vomiting, unconsciousness and cancer.

If you want to test the fish you buy, get a kit from the CIFT. Remove the strip and rub it on the fish. If it turns blue, you are eating formalin. 

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By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

A restaurant in Lokhandwala, Mumbai has a large cage at the entrance with two pygmy monkeys in it. I sent a member of the state animal welfare board to arrest the owners. The forest department refused to help saying there was no law to confiscate foreign monkeys or arrest the owners. These smugglers will continue to display these severely endangered monkeys till I find a way to shut them down.

Last month a “pet fair” took place in Pune. It displayed exotic birds, fish and pedigreed dogs. It had no permissions and yet the police and the forest department took no action. Why? Because they claim there is no law that protects foreign species in India. The smugglers who ran the fair looked on smugly as animal activists cried themselves hoarse. The new Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board had given them permission – which has never been given before – to hold the "exhibition".  As long as they did not sell foreign animals they could display them. So they secretly sold the animals in black.

Three months ago a person’s house was raided in Bangalore. He was found with three ball pythons. The forest department refused to register a case saying there was no law which covered foreign snakes. The man absconded with the snakes and released them in the open, while the inspectors were still arguing.  So, now you have exotic snakes in the wilds in Bangalore. In Uttar Pradesh a man recently died of snake bite – from an African pit viper brought illegally into this country as a pet and then released when the owner got bored.

Go to a normal illegal petshop – illegal because no shops in this country are licensed to sell animals. You will find dozens of exotic species. From macaws to snakes and snails and spiders. Look at the Net – hundreds of exotic fish, birds, animals, are for sale. Macaws from Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico, fish and  turtles from all over the world, fox squirrels, ferrets, frogs, snakes, sharks, monkeys, lizards and iguanas. One businessman in Chennai was found with two chimpanzees in his garage.

How did these get into India? There is a direct nexus between smugglers and our Indian customs departments. They come in containers from Singapore and pass easily through customs at the ports, specially Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. The smaller animals come even through airports. Bangalore is notorious for its customs officers. One woman officer from the Northeast was caught running an illegal smuggling ring herself, in which her partner would go to Thailand, pick up animals and bring them in, on the days she was on duty. After I complained, she was removed from there but still holds her job somewhere and is probably doing the same thing.

The fault is with the Ministry for Environment, which ceased to exist as a functioning body 20 years ago and is now just another dead body whose officials go abroad once a week to waste India’s money. The Wildlife Crime Bureau, which was invented to fight these kinds of crime, has repeatedly asked the Ministry to amend the laws and put the smuggling/sale/buying of exotic species as a criminal offence. They do nothing. In order to delay any action, and perhaps protect smugglers, they keep making committees to review the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. (During Jairam’s time, no matter how he poses as a great environmentalist, he refused to take action and stop illegal bird markets on the written “recommendation” of 22 large criminal smugglers who protested, some from jail itself, that it would hamper their right to earn money !). Dr Manmohan Singh put Sunita Narain, who took years and did nothing of any value. 15 years have passed and now another committee has been made under Dr Rajesh Gopal.  He himself says that it will go nowhere .

In the meantime smuggling and transactions of foreign species worth 8-10 crores take place EVERY DAY. You can go to jail for keeping a rosy ringed parakeet or a myna in your house. Not if you keep Cockatiels, African Grey Parrots or Lorikeets.

All these exotic species, that are smuggled into India, are endangered species of which there are only a few thousand left. They are banned for capture in their own countries and are on the prohibited list of CITES. The International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) lists all of them as endangered species. The Military Macaw is found only in a few miles of forest between Argentina and Mexico. Even the Lovebirds are little parrots brought in from Australia. They die en route in the thousands. The rest last less than a year, as they cannot take any temperature variations and no form of cold. Yet you continue to buy them. Australia has put them on the endangered species list and no one in that country can buy them. But China and India are swallowing them wholesale. Some buy to keep them for a few months till they die . Others buy out of pity and "release" them. Thousands of miles away from home, they die in foreign skies.

According to a correspondent who posed as a buyer in 2013 : In Mumbai, Mausam Patel’s Baba Aquarium proudly sells soft-shelled turtles. "This is imported from China. We can ship them to any part of India" he said. This turtle pair costs Rs. 4,000. When asked about legalities of importing these turtles, he said, "Importing requires permission. That we have ways to deal with. Once they reach India, There's no problem." S.Siva, has posted more than 40 different types of macaws on his website for sale. Some of them include Yellow Collar macaw, Scarlet Blue Gold and Blue Gold macaws. “Each pair of macaws costs 2 lakh. While openly advertised, the trade is entirely in black.”

A reporter from The Sunday Guardian recently contacted an online seller who openly displayed pictures of exotic wild animals - iguanas, chameleons, snakes, monitor lizards, spiders - and guaranteed home delivery after half payment. In fact, if you joined his club, you would get one exotic wild animal every month. The price of an iguana is about Rs 18,000, while a Tarantula costs Rs 16,000. Chameleons are sold at a price of Rs 12,000.

The Zoological Survey of India, the Central Zoo Authority, the wildlife department of each state, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, sit by and watch silently. No action is taken on this massive criminal activity because the Ministry for Environment and Forests will not make rules.

In Delhi, the Capital of India where all the lawmakers live, you can get anything easily. We have one Chief Wildlife Warden whose entire office consists of two inspectors and none of them will stir out of their offices no matter what the crisis. I can pick up any exotic species I want – from Tarantula spiders, black squirrels, rattlesnakes from the American desert, any kind of wild cat, turtle or emu. There is a person in Mehrauli, who partners a politician, who sells these from his basement. When he was raided, the forest department refused to arrest him on the grounds that all these were exotic.

 “This trade in wild animals, their articles, trophies cured/uncured etc., is in complete violation of national and international guidelines such as CITES and legislations such as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 etc.

None of the dealers have any licences, permits - and they don’t need them because all the authorities look the other way using the loophole in the Wildlife Act 1972.

We have signed the CITES treaty but we still don’t have an office 40 years later and the Customs people, who are raking in the money, refuse to learn or apply it. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) makes the trade of foreign birds and animals illegal, but the forest departments and Customs are blasé about it. Their attitude is that India signs treaties  because it looks good. Honouring them is irrelevant as the world is happy simply when the treaty is signed.

We need rules on exotic species and we need them NOW. We need a strong CITES division. We need to catch and sack corrupt customs officers. We need to strengthen the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. There are three nations that are destroying all the species of the world by encouraging and allowing foreign species to come into their countries: America, China and India. 

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