Illegal pangolin trade on the rise

The scales are in demand in China, Taiwan, and Myanmar

October 13, 2019 09:40 am | Updated 09:40 am IST - Bengaluru

Pangolin scales and claws seized recently.

Pangolin scales and claws seized recently.

The Nandini Layout police recently caught two men from Anantapur who had come to the city to deliver four kg pangolin scales to their contact near the Dr. Rajkumar Memorial. The accused Nagarjun, 24, and Narasi Reddy, 58, who are tribals, told officials that they were into the business for the past one year as it was lucrative.

This is not an isolated case. At least 10 cases of illegal trade of pangolin scales have been registered in and around the city this year. Pangolin is a critically endangered mammal placed in Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Punati Sridhar, PCCF, told The Hindu that the illegal trade was part of an international racket reaching the porous borders of West Bengal, Assam, and Nepal. These scales were for China, Korea, Taiwan, and Myanmar where the demand for this and other animal body parts had increased exponentially over recent years, he said.

The average price for a kg of these scales reportedly sky-rocketed to over ₹1 lakh in the international market, triggering many local hunters and trappers to take up the trade, officials said. Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy and is believed to have medicinal value.

Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC - the wildlife trade monitoring network, said the number of seizures of pangolin scales and meat in the border areas of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Jharkhand was “alarming” and going by the trend, the species may run the risk of extinction soon.

According to officials, the network of illegal trade is spread across India, and social media is used as their trade platform. Tribals identify burrows and smoke out the animals. They then dump them in boiling water to remove the scales. The meat of the animal is consumed or sold locally, they said.

Forest Department officials have now intensified drives to contain the illegal trade. “We have set up local intelligence in sensitive areas and intensified surveillance along the possible smuggling route. The Forest Department is also taking up the issue of special cell at the airport to keep a tab on the smuggling racket. This is apart from working closely with officials of ports in Chennai,” Mr. Sridhar added. But senior police officials admitted that official figures were only the tip of the iceberg and hundreds of cases were going unreported.

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