Sangre Grande businessman sues Chief Game Warden after 200 exotic birds seized

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A Sangre Grande businessman has sued the Chief Game Warden for seizing over 200 exotic birds from his home in Sangre Grande in 2021.

On February 16, Yi Hui Chou, also known as Jimmy Chow, testified before Justice Kevin Ramcharan in his lawsuit against the State.

Chou, 43, owns and operates a restaurant in a two-story building in Sangre Grande. The upstairs portion housed his home where game wardens allegedly found most of the birds and some tortoises while there were also cages housing birds at the back of the restaurant on the ground floor.

On September 10, 2021, game wardens raided his home and seized over 200 birds. Under the Conservation of Wildlife Act, a person has to apply for a permit to keep protected animals and he said

He applied for permits in 2013, 2019 and 2021, but never received a response.

In his lawsuit, Chou maintained the game warden did not follow the regulations in the act

Chou contends that at the time the birds and animals were seized, he told the game wardens he had pending applications for permits but did not they allow him to give the birds to people he knew with permits nor did they invite him to show them that the birds did not wish to go free (known as the domestication test) as provided for by regulation 11 of the act.

Regulation 11 said a game warden or constable who finds a protected animal in capacity must ask the person to release the animal immediately, give it to someone who has a permit or demonstrate that the animal does not wish to go free.

His lawsuit said on September 13, 2021, he received a letter from the Chief Game Warden asking for documents that permitted him to keep the birds and animals. He provided his permit applications.

Chou contends the Chief Game Warden failed to decide on his permit applications and seized the birds contrary to the regulations. He has also complained of a delay in processing his applications.

He said he has bread and cared for the majority of the birds and animals from birth.

“At no point during the exercise did the game wardens seek to determine whether the animals were domesticated or wish to go free or offer to issue any permits… They simply said to me they were taking the animals.”

Chou said he has been caring for the birds for over 25 years and estimated their worth to be $576,300. The birds included rosellas, macaws, parrots, conures, parakeets, finches, cockatoos, and sparrows. Tortoises were also seized along with 46 cages.

The birds and animals have since been housed at the Emperor Valley Zoo.

Chou admitted on Friday, that he bought some of the birds from dealers who had permits to import and breed him while others were given to him by people who could no longer care for them or were migrating.

Assistant conservator of forests and head of the Wildlife Section at the forestry division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, wildlife biologist David Mahabir said six species of birds seized were native to Trinidad while 25 of the species were not. He assisted the game wardens in identifying the birds on video calls and also exhibited photographs of the birds in his statement.

In his statement, he provided details of the legislation on the possession of wildlife and spoke of the illegal trade in wild flora and fauna, which, he said poses threats to Trinidad and Tobago’s wildlife population. In addition to the introduction of invasive species to terrestrial ecosystems, the illegal exotic pet trade also has the potential to transmit new zoonotic pathogens to native biodiversity, domestic poultry and humans. He cited several UWI research papers in support.

He also said there was no confirmation the birds were checked by a veterinarian for diseases or that proper procedures to import them were followed.

“…There posed the real threat that if the birds found on the claimant’s premises were to be let out into the wild there was a great potential that such birds would cross breed and/or potentially spread diseases etc. “Similarly, if they were sold or given to another person, the risk of harm to our ecosystem would be too great.”

In evidence, he admitted non-native birds could be bought from permitted importers and breeders but under the regulations, the latter would have to get permission to sell their birds.

He said buyers would only need a permit to keep the birds.

Asked about the delay in processing applications, he said the section was severely understaffed.

Also testifying was Susan Nieves who sold Chou some of the birds and game warden Rajiv Harrinanan who went with three of his colleagues to Chou’s premises. Harrinanan said he did not think the domestication test was feasible since he did not know if the non-native birds were diseased and would affect the local ecosystem if released.

Chou was represented by Rajiv Persad, SC, while the defence for the Chief Game Warden was led by Terrence Bharath, SC.