Rajahmundry: Foresters face a tough challenge in curbing poaching and smuggling of pangolins which are a highly endangered species similar to tigers and placed in Schedule-1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Recently, the forest authorities received information about the capture and illegal possession of a pangolin by two tribal men and by the time they managed to reach them posing as customers to purchase it, it was too late and the mammal died within a few minutes of being taken into custody. The forest authorities learnt that the mammal had been kept in captivity by the tribals for nearly a week without food and it died due to starvation.
The authorities booked the duo under the provisions of section 5 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, arrested them and produced them in local court which sent to judicial remand at Jangareddygudem in West Godavari.
This may just be the tip of the iceberg as the pangolin is a highly trafficked mammal with demand in China, Vietnam and other south east Asian countries. The pangolin survives on insects, ants and termites and lives mainly in the red soil areas as it can get good food. It is poached and smuggled for its keratin scales which are used to make traditional medicine in China, in addition to using them for preparation of soup like delicacies.
Based on the confession from the poachers, sources say that as the pangolin coils itself into a ball when any attempt is made to capture it, the captured mammal is placed alive in boiling water so that the scales get separated from the body easily. Its meat is also consumed. The forest authorities managed to get a clue of poaching and smuggling of the docile animal through a social media platform called ‘Rice Puller Forum’ on WhatsApp group.
Its members use code language about possession of captured endangered species or their parts like skins and horns in case of tigers or rhinos respectively, so that the interested parties can contact them and take their possession by paying hefty amount of money.
The authorities set up camera traps at strategic locations in the Papikonda National Park to capture the presence of such mammals. Middlemen who engage local tribals to capture the pangolins alive and offer a meagre amount ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 each, in AP and TS.
As it is very difficult to secure a huge amount of insects and termites to feed the captured mammals, they die due to starvation by the time the middlemen reach them and procure them without being caught by forest or police personnel.
Rajahmundry divisional forest officer (Wildlife) Anant Sankar said, “Though the presence of pangolins is not so high in our forests, we are keeping a close vigil to curb their poaching and smuggling by local tribals engaged by middlemen.”