Wildlife & Biodiversity

International Horseshoe Crab Day: Species under grave threat in Odisha

Hundreds of the crabs have been killed in Odisha each year to supply their meat and shells to Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and other states

 
By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 19 June 2020
Horseshoe crab flesh is believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Photo: Ashis Senapati
Horseshoe crab flesh is believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Photo: Ashis Senapati Horseshoe crab flesh is believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Horseshoe crabs face an uncertain future in Odisha, their largest habitat in India, even as the world gets ready to celebrate the first-ever ‘International Horseshoe Crab Day’ on June 20, 2020.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Horseshoe Crab Specialist Group had decided to observe the day in its meeting from June 14-20, 2019 at Qinzhou City in China.

“These animals have existed virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs and are important ecosystem engineers and predators of small organisms in modern intertidal environments,” Basudev Tripathy, deputy director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Kolkata, who had attended the IUCN meeting in Qinzhou City, said.

“The aim behind the day is to generate greater awareness for these ancient creatures and help in their conservation,” he added.

Horseshoe crabs are a critical link to world health, biodiversity and hold cultural importance across the globe. One of their ecological functions is to lay millions of eggs on beaches to feed shorebirds, fish and other wildlife. Unfortunately, this ecological link can be broken in areas where population density is low.

Horseshoe crabs in Odisha are in danger as poachers kill them for their meat, that is popularly believed to have aphrodisiac qualities. It is estimated that hundreds of horseshoe crabs have been killed in Odisha each year to supply their meat and shells to Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and other states.

“It is believed that consumption of horseshoe crab meat can lengthen a person’s lifespan. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this. Many  quacks also crush its carapace and mix it with water to prepare a paste, which is applied onto scars. It is shocking that the trade in horseshoe crabs is rampant in many states,” Siddhartha Pati, a noted horseshoe crab expert and director of Association for Biodiversity Conservation and Research of Odisha, said.

Horseshoe crabs are picked from the seaside areas of Kendrapara, Balasore and Bhadrak districts and are sent to other states. But so far, agencies are yet to nab any horseshoe crab smuggler in the state, Pati added. 

The crackdown on horseshoe crab poachers requires superior, inter-state coordination among police and wildlife authorities of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and  other states, he noted.

We are doing conservation work with the fishing and coastal communities of Odisha and trying our best to convince them not to kill horseshoe crabs, he said.

The  horseshoe crab was included on September 9, 2009 in the Schedule IV of the Wild (Life) Protection Act, 1972, under which, the catching and killing of a horseshoe crab is an offence.

“The ZSI suggested last year that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should declare the habitat of the crabs at Eakakula, Hukitola, Madali Agaranasi beaches and Barunei river mouth of Kendrapara district as well as Chandipur and Balarangadi areas of Balasore district as Eco-Sensitive Zones for the conservation and proper management of the endangered marine species,” Tripathy said.

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