Forest officers seized a live pangolin from a gang of six who were trading in the endangered species, and are hopeful of cracking the illegal trade in the state
Ashok Kumar | Clarion India
MUMBAI – A major pangolin trade racket was busted in western Maharashtra over the weekend, with forest officials along with those from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) rescuing a live scaly-skinned creature and arresting six persons for trading in the most-trafficked mammal in the world.
Most ordinary people have not heard of pangolins, but these are among the most trafficked mammals, accounting for a fifth of the illegal wildlife trade. The scaly anteaters, which do not have teeth, eat ants, termites and larvae.
“Pangolins are an endangered species and hunting them is a legal offence as it is protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972,” Sachin Dombale, range forest officer (vigilance squad), Satara, told Clarion India on Monday. The creatures are hunted for a variety of reasons with the meat considered a delicacy and scales used for traditional Chinese medicines and folk remedies.
According to Dombale, though buyers in Maharashtra do not admit it, many collect pangolins to ward off bad luck. “It is part of the superstition in many parts of India, where people believe that by keeping pangolins at home they will be lucky,” he said.
After being tipped off by an informer, the forest officials posed as dummy customers and busted the racket in Satara. Six persons were arrested over the weekend. All of them were residents of Pune. Besides the pangolin, they also seized three motorcycles and other items worth over a lakh of rupees.
Mr Maranko, regional deputy director, WCCB said this was the second major pangolin trade racket cracked in western Maharashtra this year. In June, two pangolins were rescued and six persons were arrested from Nanded and Pune.
“Illegal pangolin trade has become a serious matter of concern along west Maharashtra,” he points out. “Both these cases (Nanded and Satara) have opened up trade routes and information that will help us nab more persons involved in this money-making scheme.”
Rohan Bhate, WCCB member, said one of the six accused had a bogus ID showing that he was assisting the forest department. “We are coming across such frauds that are either smuggling snake venom or pangolins using such illegal ID cards,” he notes. “Their registration needs to be cancelled at the earliest to prevent such crimes.”
The forest officials believe there is a poultry farm between Pune and Satara where live pangolins are being kept for trade. “We are working with local teams to identify and arrest more persons to nip this illegal trade in the bud,” adds Maranko.
There is huge demand for pangolins in China and Vietnam. About four years ago, 180 countries signed an agreement to end all legal trade in pangolins and to protect the species from extinction.