Amid the increasing number of pangolin seizures in India, maximum cases were reported in Odisha.
Highlighting the growing menace of pangolin poaching and the inefficiency of the authorities to control it, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has said that the pangolin had been declared the world’s most trafficked mammal.
India reports a significant number of pangolin trafficking incidents.
They are poached mainly for international markets — mostly in China, Vietnam, and other South Eastern countries — for their scales, which are used as an ingredient in traditional medicines and are believed to cure various ailments.
Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy and consumed for alleged medicinal properties.
Over 1,200 pangolins, also known as the scaly anteaters, were poached and trafficked in India over the past four years from 2018 to 2022, according to a recent report.
The report was released jointly by the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature-India and TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organisation which monitors illicit global wildlife trade.
According to the report, 1,203 pangolins (both live and dead) were seized in 342 incidents and that the actual numbers of the animal being trafficked are likely to be far higher.
Over 880 kg of pangolin derivatives and 199 live pangolins were reported in the 342 seizure incidents.
An earlier analysis by TRAFFIC released in 2018 found poaching of nearly 6,000 pangolins between 2009 and 2017. Last year, TRAFFIC found that India recorded the highest number of pangolin seizures in Asia between 2015 and 2021 at 287 seizures.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) was reported to have seized 336.9 kg of pangolin scales between 2019 and 2022.
Twenty-four states and one Union Territory reported seizures of pangolins and their derivatives.
In its latest analysis, WWF-TRAFFIC found that the maximum number of pangolins was seized in Odisha — 154 pangolins in 74 seizures.
Pangolins are toothless, nocturnal, live in burrows, and feed mainly on ants and termites and play a role in ecological balance.
Pangolins are found across all districts of Odisha, yet their population is unknown as they are very elusive creatures.
They were earlier hunted for their scales, while the meat was eaten by tribals. However, for the last six years, the demand for live Pangolins has gone up sharply.
Poachers employ nomadic tribes like Sabaras, Kolhos, Mankadias, Sauras etc., who are expert hunters.
Due to escalating demand, traders of forest produce and wildlife parts smugglers engage them to catch Pangolins and sell them to inter-state smugglers at a high cost.
Live pangolins and their derivatives such as scales, carcasses, skins, claws, meat, bones, and other body parts were confiscated during 2018-2022.
During 2019-20, Athagarh Forest Division in Odisha arrested about 30 men, some of them possessing pangolin scales, live pangolins and a dead formalin-soaked pangolin.
"Being as lucrative or more lucrative than ivory or drug trade, off late organized mafia gangs have entered this illegal business which appears comparatively easier for them, " said Biswajit Mohanty, Project Director of the WPSI.
Anil Dhir of WPSI said, "Until three years ago the Odisha Forest Department was unaware about threats to pangolins. Forest guards used to ignore the hunting or catching of pangolins, porcupines, turtles, monkeys and birds like parakeets and mynas, though they are all protected species."
"The efforts made to make people aware about the need to protect elephants and tigers is completely missing for pangolins," he added.
The maximum number of live pangolins were caught from Odisha (45 incidents and 50 pangolins), followed by Maharashtra (27 incidents and 32 pangolins).
In India, pangolins are found in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
Indian pangolins are also found in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
A Pangolin Research and Breeding Center was established in 2007 at the NandanKanan Zoo, with the objective of breeding and augmenting the dwindling wild population, but not a single Pangolin has been released in the wild.
Mohanty said, "Massive awareness campaigns need to be initiated to make people aware about the need to protect the pangolins, their role in the conservation of forests."
Seized and rescued live Pangolins must be released back in the wild to ensure breeding in the wild continues in order to have a sustainable population.
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