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Poachers target pangolins

Guwahati, June 20: Rampant poaching has pushed pangolins, scaly ant-eating mammals, to the verge of extinction in the Northeast, but precious little has been done to save the endangered species listed in Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Wildlife inspector (eastern region) of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, A. Roy Choudhury, said the demand for pangolin scales used in traditional Chinese medicines had triggered pangolin poaching in the Northeast.

International trade in pangolin is prohibited as it is included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The species is also listed as near-threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Roy Choudhury who is posted at the bureau’s regional office in Calcutta was here in connection with the seizure of an Imphal-bound consignment of animal parts, including about 500kg of pangolin scales, from Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport here on June 16.

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, a strong natural protein that forms human fingernails. From one pangolin a maximum of 1.5 to 2kg of scales can be extracted, according to Roy Choudhury. “From the haul, we are sure that at least 250 pangolins were killed, which is a matter of grave concern,” he said.

Roy Choudhury said organised rackets based in places like Imphal, Dimapur and Moreh were behind smuggling of pangolin scales to China from the Northeast.

“We have information that pangolin scales are smuggled to Myanmar through the Moreh border from where these are taken to China.”

He said the porous Indo-Myanmar border in the insurgency-ridden Moreh region of Manipur is a problem area as far as smuggling of animal parts is concerned.

Roy Choudhury said Indian and Chinese pangolins are found across the Northeast. The Chinese variety is found only in the northeastern sta-tes while Indian pangolins are found in other parts of the country. There has been no survey or count of pangolins in the Northeast, but the authorities are alarmed at the scale of destruction.

The average life span of a pangolin is nearly 20 years.

On November 22, Assam Rifles seized 365 pangolin shells from three persons in Chandel district of Manipur. The chief wildlife warden of Assam, Suresh Chand, said a red alert had been sounded following the huge haul of pangolin scales by the customs department this year.

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