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Students preach pangolin preservation

Darjeeling, March 23: A scaly nocturnal animal on the verge of extinction has found its saviour in a group of students of Riverdale Academy.

Students of the school in Pokhriabong, 35km from here, had started Save the Pangolin campaign three years ago after Smrithi Rumdali Rai, the principal and a wildlife enthusiast, discovered that the area had a number of pangolins.

“I was surprised to find the animals in Pokhriabong while trekking. I immediately decided to start a campaign to bring about awareness among the local people and the move is now paying dividends,” Rai told The Telegraph.

The students involved with this campaign have rescued around 15 pangolins so far.

The mammals have no teeth and they mainly survive on ants and other insects.

“The animal curls itself into a ball hoping that the scales on its body would protect it. But, unfortunately it is not always protected,” said Rai.

The authorities of Riverdale Academy have also informed the wildlife wing in Darjeeling about the animals. “Pangolins are found at an altitude of 4,000 feet and above. I was told that some were sighted at Pokhriabong and because it is an endangered species we visited the area. We will soon start an awareness campaign there. I have also written to the state officials for protection of the animals’ habitat,” said G.P. Chhetri, the divisional forest officer of Darjeeling.

Two types of pangolins are found in the country, Indian and Chinese. The latter is more common in the Northeast. The animals sighted in Pokhriabong are also of this variety.

“There are seven species of pangolins around the world. But there is no available data on the number of Chinese pangolins found in the wild. They are in great demand in the South Asian countries,” said Rai.

During an awareness campaign, the Riverdale students told villagers not to believe in tales that said the meat of the animal could cure asthma and increase blood circulation. Some people even believe that the dry scales of pangolins can be used to treat “ailments as ridiculous as eyelash curling inwards and hysterical crying in children”.

“Pangolins fetch anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000 in the market,” Rai said.

The school authority has also brought in some wildlife enthusiasts from Mumbai to support their cause.

According to Rai, television personalities like Kavita Kaushik, dietician Rujuta Diwekar were among others who had taken part in the Run for Pangolin campaign here last year.

“We ask the villagers not to kill the animals and threaten them with legal action. Now, they inform us if they see pangolins in their villages and we have successfully released some in the wild after treating them,” said Rai.

The Riverdale Saviours: Save the Pangolin campaign was started three years ago after Rai discovered that Pokhriabong had a number of pangolins. The students involved with this campaign have rescued around 15 pangolins so far. The mammals have no teeth and they mainly survive on ants and other insects. During awareness campaigns, the Riverdale students tell villagers not to believe in tales that claim that the meat of the animal can cure asthma and increase blood circulation. Some people even believe that the dry scales of pangolins can be used to treat “ailments as ridiculous as eyelash curling inwards and hysterical crying in children”. Pangolins fetch anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000 in the market, Rai said. The school authorities had also brought in some wildlife enthusiasts from Mumbai at their campaign to support their cause. (Text: Vivek Chhetri, Picture courtesy: Riverdale)

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