The seizure of the skull and bones of a full-grown tiger and scales of pangolin the total value of which has been estimated to be not less than Rs 3 crore in the international grey market in Guwahati in the past few days,has once again brought to light the fact that illegal trade in animal parts has become big business in the Northeast.
The customs department had in the past week seized at least one tiger skull and about 5 kg of bones from consignments booked for Imphal from the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International (LGBI) Airport. The officials also seized about 10 kg of pangolin scales,all believed to be heading towards China or some Southeast Asian country through Manipur.
While the customs officials intercepted one packet on Wednesday with the X-ray showing bones inside it,six more packets were intercepted on Thursday. Five more packets were detected on Friday,while six were detected on Sunday.
All the packets were booked by Speedpost at Dimapur in Nagaland and had arrived by surface transport at the LGBI Airport here to be transported by air to Imphal. The packets were so carefully packed that there was no scope for suspicion. It was only during X-ray in the airport that the bones were detected, a customs official said.
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau suspects the skull and bones to be of at least one full-grown tiger,which must have been killed either in Arunachal Pradesh or in some adjoining area in Assam. Ten kg of pangolin scales recovered so far on the other hand indicated that at least 200 pangolins must have been killed.
The consignments of animal parts must have been bound for China through Manipur and Myanmar. We are trying to track down the sender and recipient in Dimapur and Imphal,respectively. There must be a big gang involved in the entire racket,including poachers,smugglers and local informers, the customs official said.
Customs officials and experts dealing with wildlife crime said Manipur was the most favoured destination of several international rackets operating in the Northeastern region. While these rackets manage to take the animal parts to Imphal,from there they are sent out of the country through Moreh on the Myanmar border.
There has been a spate of seizures of animal parts in the current year in the region in the recent months. The last major seizure was made by the Assam Rifles,which included two tiger skulls and 16 kg of tiger bones in Chandel district of Manipur in February.
While Kaziranga National Park in Assam has recently emerged as the highest tiger density habitat in India,at least three tigers have been poisoned to death in Orang National Park in the past four years. In Arunachal Pradesh on the other hand Namdapha and Pakke tiger reserves have reported several tiger deaths in the past decade.