The Mizoram Police, along with the wildlife department officials, seized 468 exotic animals, the largest such haul of species, smuggled in from the adjoining, strife-torn Myanmar, officials said on Thursday.
Five persons were arrested in this connection for smuggling in an assortment of exotic wildlife species such as the potto or bush bear native in Africa, officials in the State said on Thursday.
More than the number of animals, the officials were alarmed by the modus operandi of the smugglers. They had casually waded across Tlau, a river on the India-Myanmar border carrying the animals, in sacks and boxes, on their heads.
“They could have tried to pass off as Myanmar nationals fleeing the civil war, who come in with whatever they can salvage on their heads,” a police officer in Champhai, a district bordering Myanmar said on condition of anonymity.
He said the police acted on a tip-off and intercepted the five smugglers at Chailbawia junction in Champhai district and handed over it to the Customs Preventive Force along with the animals.
The seized animals included 442 lizards, 11 snakes (mostly albino pythons), four three-toed sloths, four pottos, four tortoises, two beavers and a wild cat.
“The five arrested people are couriers who agreed to do the job for money. We are trying to find out who in Mizoram are behind this network,” the officer said.
On May 8, the enforcement agencies in Mizoram had seized kangaroos, rats, meerkats, white cockatoos and Burmese pythons – animals not found in India – smuggled in from Myanmar in vehicles. Some smuggled exotic animals slip through to reach other parts of India.
Such animals were seized in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh a few months ago.
Officials said these exotic animals are smuggled into India from breeding farms in Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar.
The seizure of the exotic animals almost coincided with that of 30,000 bottles of Pheneydyl, a banned high-codeine cough syrup, on the outskirts of Guwahati. “We arrested three people in connection with one of the biggest seizures of this cough syrup in recent times,” Partha Sarathi Mahanta, the Joint Commissioner of Police said.