Wildlife & Biodiversity

COVID-19 not enough to scare smugglers off pangolins

Special Task Force officials in Odisha rescued a pangolin that was going to be sold at Abhimanpur village near Cuttack April 16  

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Monday 19 April 2021
An Indian Pangolin. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

A live pangolin was rescued by the Special Task Force (STF), a specialised team of the Odisha crime branch that deals with wildlife crimes from a village in Cuttack district April 16, 2021, officials said.

The rescue and recovery were made by the STF personnel from Abhimanpur in Cuttack district April 16, 2021. A person identified as Keshab Chandra Sahoo of the same village was arrested.

“On the basis of reliable information, the STF team conducted a raid near Abhimanpur in Cuttack district at a spot where a deal to sell live pangolins was being finalised April 16. One live pangolin and some other incriminating materials were seized from the possession of the accused person,” Deputy Inspector General, Crime Branch JN Pankaj, said.

A case under Sections 379/411/120(B) of the Indian Penal Code and different sections under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 was registered and investigation was on, he said. The seized pangolin was handed over to the divisional forest officer (DFO), Athagarh for safe custody, Pankaj said.

The STF team had rescued three live pangolins, including the one in Abhimapur, and seized around five kg of pangolin scales in the last one year, Pankaj said. 

Forest officials had also rescued at least three live pangolins from the Athagarh forest division from August 2019-April 2020, led by the then DFO (Athagarh) Sasmita Lenka. They had also seized over five kg of pangolin scales during the period.

The rescue and recovery prove wrong the prediction of wildlife experts. They had said the smuggling of the toothless mammal would reduce in Odisha as several scientists had identified it as a potential intermediate host of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in February, 2020.

The Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), is a solitary, shy, slow moving, nocturnal mammal. It is a Schedule I protected animal under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Offences committed with regard to Schedule I animals carry the highest penalties.

The species is listed under the Appendix I of the International Convention of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that prohibits international commercial trade. Among eight pangolin species found globally, four each are found in Asia and Africa. India is home to two species, the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) and the Indian pangolin.

“When Chinese researchers identified pangolins as the potential intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 in February 2020 and discovered of a 99 per cent genetic match between the novel coronavirus and a strain of the virus found in pangolins, we thought the smuggling of the pangolin might be reduced. But it proved wrong with seizure of more live pangolins from Odisha,” Sudhakar Mohapatra, a retired senior forest officer, said.

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