The Special Task Force (STF) of the forest department seized a dead pangolin and arrested five persons near Kalijhora near the Bengal-Sikkim border as it was being smuggled to Bhutan Tuesday. The accused have been booked under Section 50 of the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972, forest officials said.
The accused have been identified as Gopal Dorjee, Arun Rai, Kamal Sundas and Santosh Kumar, all residents of Namchi in Sikkim.
According to wildlife experts, the mammal is the most poached and trafficked animal globally and is hunted because of its scales and meat. In China and Vietnam, pangolin meat is consumed as a luxury wild meat dish and scales are prescribed in traditional medicines to treat skin conditions and improve blood circulation.
Indian pangolins are found throughout the country south of the Himalayas, excluding the Northeast, and Chinese pangolin is found in Assam and the eastern Himalayas. The pangolins generally feed on ants and termites. Hunting and trade, or any other form of utilization of the species of their body parts and derivatives of two pangolin species-Indian pangolin or ‘Manis Crassicaudata’ and Chinese pangolin or ‘Manis Pentadactyla’ are banned under part-I of schedule I (item no 28) Wildlife (Protection Act), 1972. This species is also listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.
“Based on a tip-off, we laid an ambush near the Bengal-Sikkim border. We chased a vehicle coming from Sikkim and intercepted it near Kalijhora and found five persons in it. After a thorough search of the vehicle, a dead pangolin weighing around 7.5 kg wrapped in leafy vegetables was found. We immediately arrested those persons,” said the head of the STF, Sanjay Dutta.
Forest officers said that during interrogation, they revealed that they had killed the animal and were supposed to send it to Bhutan for a whopping Rs 70,000 per kg.
“The mammal was killed in Sikkim. They also admitted their link with an international racket dealing in wild animal articles. During the interrogation, it was found that 26 old Rai, an engineering student, has adequate knowledge of availability of endangered species and full knowledge on geographical location of the Himalayan region, and we suspect that he is the mastermind of the racket, while others are habitual poachers,” said a forest officer.
“The accused persons had captured a live pangolin within the cold area of Mangan wildlife sanctuary yesterday and killed it. The animal was being smuggled to Bhutan after striking a deal for Rs 5 lakh,” added the officer.
It may be recalled that the STF had seized 2.400 kg of pangolin scales and arrested four persons at Rongpo on the Bengal-Sikkim border, including three Sikkim residents, while the scales were being smuggled from Gangtok to Bhutan in March. Conservationists said there was no survey on pangolins.