IN AN operation involving a decoy buyer, the state forest department officials from Pune and Raigad districts have arrested five persons and rescued a pangolin they were allegedly trying to sell.
Forest Department officials in Pune received information on possible pangolin smuggling by Honorary Wildlife Warden and WCCB Member Rohan Bhate, who had received a tip-off about the same.
A meeting of a decoy buyer was set up with suspected sellers in the Varandha Ghat area in Pune district on Saturday.
However, the suspects kept changing the venue of the meeting and eventually asked the buyer to go to Mahad in Raigad district.
Subsequently, a joint operation was launched by forest officials from Pune and Raigad in Tol Khurd village.
The officials rescued the pangolin and arrested five persons while five others managed to escape. The five arrested comprise two from Satara district and three from Raigad district.
Police have also seized three bikes and five cell phones from them. The other persons have been identified as a search has been launched for them.
A probe has been launched into how the pangolin came into their possession and whether this case was part of a larger racket.
The rescued pangolin is in good health and has been lodged at a forest department facility. The animal will be released in the wild after a court order in this regard.
The pangolin, also known as scaly anteater or Khawale Manjar in Maharashtra, is an insectivorous mammal which has hard scales of keratin on its body. Two of the eight subspecies of the animal are found in India.
The animal has been given a protected status, as per the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act in the country.
While pangolin scales are mainly used in traditional Oriental remedies, and luxury items, the animal meat is also consumed and sold at a very high price in the illegal market.
There have been cases of the animal being kept in houses in India, as there is a superstition that it brings wealth.
Pangolin is one of most trafficked animals in the world and officials suspect that multiple rackets might be active in some parts of Maharashtra in which one chain catches them from forests and sells them to middlemen in cities to be further sold to smugglers.
Along with Pune, Thane, Raigad, seizure of animals and scales have also been made from Chandrapur and Nanded district in the past.