In what is pegged to be the biggest seizure of its kind in the Northeast, sea fans, which are a variety of soft coral, along with parts of monitor lizards, porcupine spikes, among others, were recovered in a joint operation by the Assam Forest Department and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) in Guwahati on Wednesday. Three persons have been arrested in connection with the case,
According to first department officials, 50 kg of sea fans, 14 musk deer pod, two kg of broken pieces of musk pod, 43 body parts of monitor lizards, 1.5 kg of porcupine spikes and parts of three unidentified animals were seized in two raids — first at the Ganeshguri Lakhi Mandir, and later at the ancient Kamakhya temple, one of the oldest shakti peeths of Hinduism in the country.
“The WCCB got a tip-off and we conducted the first raid in Lakhi Mandir, Ganeshguri, where we found the sea fans. Based on the interrogation there, we headed to Kamakhya temple,” said Guwahati Range Forest Officer, Pankaj Borah, who led the operation on behalf of the forest department, “We have not heard of such a big haul of sea fan in the northeast — so far away from the coastline.”
Corals are listed under the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “This means no one can possess it or trade it,” said Borah, “And those who are caught with it will be awarded the strictest punishment.”
The material is in the custody of the forest department currently.
According to a WCCB official, this is the first time such a big haul of marine life has been recovered in Assam. “Earlier there have been incidents of people being caught with small quantities of coral,” he said, “Our preliminary investigations reveal that these were brought by sadhus who were visiting Kamakhya temple. However, further investigation is underway — the quantity is too large to have been brought just by sadhus, so there must be other players involved too.”
The official said it is possible that the material was being sold as sacred or religious products to temple visitors. “An awareness drive needs to be done to tell people that there is no scientific basis to prove that these are sacred products. These are rare, vulnerable species, which need to be protected,” he said.