Bhubaneswar, Aug. 4: From cobras to sea turtles, a wide range of wild animals, are being smuggled out of Odisha.
Though forest officials plead ignorance, sources said poachers were catching cobras in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and selling in neighbouring states such as Bihar and Jharkhand. The poisonous reptiles, apart from being in demand by the snake charmers in these states, are also prized for their skin.
Sources said the snake charmers in Odisha, who were facing a livelihood crisis following restrictions on catching snakes and keeping them in captivity, had taken to capturing and smuggling these animals in a big way. “They are expert catchers and the clandestine business has been thriving for the past few years,” said a source.
Illegal trade in sea turtles is an open secret in the state where a variety of them, including the endangered Olive Ridleys, are found. Catching and smuggling of the turtles have been rampant in most of the coastal areas despite government attempts to save the creatures. Turtle meat is considered a delicacy and fetches good prices in markets outside Odisha.
The turtles, though, face a bigger threat from mechanised fishing vessels, including big trawlers, which use gillnets that choke them once they get caught.
“The gillnets used by the vessels are dangerous as they leave no escape route for these animals. The vessels have refused to use the Turtle Excluder Devices, a device that helps turtles escape after getting caught in fishing nets, despite warnings,” said an official.
Given this situation, the smuggling of sea turtles poses a much bigger threat to their population in Odisha.
However, apart from setting up camps along the coast to ensure safe mating and nesting of the Olive Ridley turtles during their breeding season, the Odisha government seems to have done precious little to save sea turtles falling prey to poaching.
However, snakes and turtles are not the only wild creatures being targeted by the smugglers.
Sources said illegal trade in prawn seedlings was also going on in several coastal districts of Odisha, the most notorious in this regard being Balasore, Bhadrak and Kendrapara.
The smugglers employ even women and children to collect the seedlings, which are highly prized by prawn culturists. The bulk of these seedlings caught on the coast, extending right up to Chandipur, are smuggled mainly to Bengal.