Over three kilogram of scales of the 'critically endangered' Indian pangolin, intended to be sold in the Chinese market, were confiscated from three poachers in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, in a joint operation by the wildlife conservation organisation, Wildlife SOS, the state forest department and police.
"One fully grown pangolin gives about 500 to 600 grams of scales. So there would be some six to eight pangolins killed for this consignment," Vikram Singh Parihar, a forest officer of Madhya Pradesh, told IANS.
The pangolin scales are mixed with rhino horns to prepare traditional Chinese medicines that claim to be aphrodisiacs. This factor, beside their being considered exotic animals, makes the pangolin one of the most trafficked animal in the world. Trade in pangolin meat and scales is reported from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Assam, Nagaland and West Bengal.
The arrested poachers, part of the nexus active in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, confessed that they were going to sell the scales to the traffickers, who operate across the Indo-Nepal border, the most taken route for animal parts to China.
Being home to a large variety and numbers of wild animals, India acts as a major source for pangolins with target markets in China, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries.
According to wildlife experts, pangolin scales fetch around Rs.12,000 to Rs.15,000 at the primary level of wildlife trafficking, at the hunters' end.
"In December last year we confiscated about 27 kilogram of pangolin scales, that would've claimed about 50 pangolin lives. The poachers held on late Tuesday belong to the same nexus, as most of them are relatives," Parihar said.
The poachers were arrested with the consignment on a motorcycle in a 10-hour long operation based on intelligence gathered by the Wildlife SOS anti-poaching unit, Chief Conservator of Forest-Gwalior, District Forest Officer-Gwalior and Madhya Pradesh Police in coordination with Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.
The poachers were booked under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
"With a growing demand for pangolin body parts in the international market, this unique endangered species is being pushed towards extinction at an alarming rate. Wildlife SOS is working closely with the Forest Department to assist in the protection of this species. Persons having any intelligence with regard to this trade can convey information by email to firstname.lastname@example.org," said Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder Wildlife SOS.
India is home to two species of pangolins, the Indian pangolin and Chinese pangolin; both species are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and listed as Critically Endangered by The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).