A recent incident in which a wildlife activist in Kolhapur was attacked by men allegedly trying to steal a pangolin, has yet again put the spotlight on networks active in trapping and smuggling the endangered animal.
On April 16, activist and honorary wildlife warden Rohan Bhate from Karad in Satara district and a team of the forest department, led by probationary assistant conservator of forest Amarjit Pawar, laid a trap and rescued a pangolin from a group of men at Umbarwadi village in Gadhinglaj area of Kolhapur district. During this operation, those who came to sell the animal allegedly attacked Bhate, leaving him seriously injured. Police and forest department have, so far, arrested seven persons in this case.
Bhate said he got information about people looking for a customer to buy a pangolin, and passed it on to Kolhapur chief conservator of forest Clement Ben. According to police, Bhate contacted one of the accused, Anand Rajgire, pretending to be a customer. Bhate, honorary wildlife warden Ajit Patil, Pawar and his team went to Umbarwadi in a four-wheeler, they added.
Police said Rajgire and his accomplices showed them a pangolin kept inside a drum. In an effort to nab the accused, Bhate was attacked with wooden sticks while he was holding the drum carrying the pangolin, police added.
He received major injuries but did not allow the accused to take the animal away, while the forest officials rushed him to Gadhinglaj police station. Pawar lodged an FIR against Rajigire and seven others on charges of attempt to murder and causing disturbance in government work.
Also, the forest department separately booked the accused under relevant sections of the Wildlife Protection Act. “Police have arrested Rajgire and Ashok Phadke, both residents of Kolhapur region. We have arrested Manik Desai, Yuvraj Shinde, Ranoji Shinde, Pramod Patade and Amar Kanade,” Pawar said.
He said, “Desai and Yuvraj Shinde are college-goers. They claimed to have got the pangolin in farmland. The accused also claimed that they collected details about the pangolin from the internet and then decided to sell it. But we are verifying their claims. Proper investigation is on. The recovered pangolin has been released in its natural habitat.”
In August 2020, the forest department stepped up its network of informants and also formed a study group, which included Bhate, for coming up with measures to preserve pangolins and prevent its smuggling. Bhate said since the formation of this group, there have been eight seizures in the state.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Sunil Limaye said, “A wing of the forest department is working on building a network of informants on the ground to counter poaching and smuggling.”
He added, “The attack highlights that we need to probe wildlife smuggling till we reach main racketeers and not just stop at arresting low-level operators, who are mostly local villagers. All stakeholders in this intelligence network need to be continuously trained and better equipped. Police also need to be sensitised on wildlife crimes.”
Two of the eight subspecies of the pangolin, a scaly anteater, are found in India. It has been granted protected status, as per Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. While its scales are mainly used in traditional oriental remedies and to make luxury items, the meat is also consumed and illegally sold. It is one of the most trafficked animals in the world.
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