A special unit of Odisha Police said it will soon approach Interpol to bust the international smuggling operations of pangolin, the world’s most illegally traded mammal.
“We are formulating the request (to Interpol) and compiling a detailed report (on poaching of pangolins)”, said Himanshu Lal, DIG Special Task Force (STF) of the Odisha Police. “We are also studying the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), through which we can request MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) to approach the Myanmar government”. MLAT is an agreement between nations to exchange information or provide legal assistance required to enforce laws.
Pangolin, the only scaly mammal on the planet, is also said to be the most illegally traded vertebrate within its class (Mammalia) by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between 183 countries to ensure trade in animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Of the eight species of pangolin worldwide, two are found in India.
The Chinese pangolin (manis pentadactyla), mostly found in northeast India, has been listed as “critically endangered” by the UN affiliated International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, while the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) has been listed as “endangered”. The Indian Pangolin is also a Schedule I category protected animal, under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
In June, the Odisha STF learned about the international scale of pangolin poaching and smuggling after arrest of one Shyamsuddin and his son Allahrakha Khan from Nayagarh district. The two revealed a decade-old poaching operation of pangolin from Kalahandi, Rayagada, Boudh and Kandhamal districts in Odisha, spreading into Chhindwara and Gondiya (Madhya Pradesh), Bastar (Chhattisgarh), Chandrapur and Gadchiroli (Maharashtra). Pangolins are sold in China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
“Pangolins are smuggled through roads and rails and sent to China, where they have huge demand for medicinal purposes”, said Ritesh Sarothiya from Madhya Pradesh’s STF, a unit that specifically looks into poaching of pangolin. “We hear, though it is unverified, that the animal’s scales are used as the base component for indigenous psychotropic substances”, he said.
Law enforcement officials added that pangolin scales are usually smuggled to China from two specific points in India —Champhai district in Mizoram and Moreh town in Manipur. Over the last three years, police have arrested 159 people in Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra for pangolin smuggling. Police refused to share prices of pangolin scales, saying the information may attract more poachers into the trade. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has earlier released a circular advising against sharing of prices.
“It is very difficult to catch consignments of pangolin scales because smugglers mix them with shredded hard plastic, such as from plastic bottles”, said Jose Louise, Chief of Crime Control Division of Wildlife Trust of India. “Unlike tiger or leopard skin, which anyone can spot and tip off police, pangolin scales can only be identified by trained eyes.”