Czech researchers arrested for collecting rare insects in India

Photo: CTK

Two Czech researchers in India have been in custody since Sunday after they were caught collecting rare insects in Singalila National Park in the north-east of the country. 51-year-oold Petr Švácha, a biologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice, and 52-year-old Emil Kučera, a forestry specialist, have said they were unaware they were on the grounds of a national park; nevertheless reports say they may have committed a serious offence.

Photo: CTK
Czech entomologists Petr Švácha and Emil Kučera can’t be pleased over developments, arrested conducting private research in north-east India: on Sunday the research duo was taken into custody by Indian officials, after being caught collecting specimens in a national park in the area of Darjeeling. The duo did not have permits to gather specimens of butterfly and beetles (estimated by Indian sources as worth hundreds of US dollars) and illegal gathering is a serious offence. Under India’s wildlife protection act, the removal of insects from their natural habitat could mean up several years in prison. Kateřina Vovková is an official at the Czech Embassy in New Delhi:

“It is quite a serious crime here in India because Indian authorities and citizens really care about nature and anything against nature is considered serious. Therefore they are facing charges between 2 to 7 years in prison. They had been collecting some beetles and butterflies and worms and defended themselves by saying they didn’t realise it was a national park and didn’t know it was against Indian law. They said they were not aware of any wrongdoing and had been taken by surprise. That’s how the situation is.”

Back in the Czech Republic many here are convinced the incident is a misunderstanding. Jan Šula is the head of the Entomology Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice, Petr Švácha’s employer:

“Petr Švácha is a world-recognised specialist on sawyer beetle larvae and I think that explains what he was doing there. He does everything for science, even investing his own time and money. I think intentional wrong-doing is out of the question. Of course, if they had been there officially this kind of thing could never have happened. On official trips you have cooperation from local specialists and so on. If they had been there officially this could never have happened.”

Both men now have legal representation and will have to await the next step: local authorities will return to their case on July 7.