Pangolin seizures sign state turning into poaching hub

and Madhusudhan with the pangolins which they were allegedly trying to sell in the city.

Rise in pangolin seizures over the past three months has revealed that the state is rapidly transforming into a hub for illegal poaching. 

A wildlife activist, who did not wish to be identified, said forest officers and police have discovered nearly 22 whole pangolins or their remains since late July.

For several years, the illegal pangolin trade hinged on the demand from China, where their scales fetched their weight in silver. Though made of keratin, the scales believe to possess medicinal value. Keratin is also the material with which human fingernails are made of.

Activists and wildlife officials are now alarmed over the growing domestic market for pangolins, which has become obvious from a large number of live pangolins found during police and wildlife raids.

“These animals are being kept alive to feed local demand,” explained Dr Saket Badola, head of the India office of Traffic, an international NGO that tracks the illicit trade of plants and wild animals. A source said the animals are eventually killed and their bodies
boiled in hot water to extract the scales. They are then powdered and used to treat piles.

“In some cases, live animals are used in black magic rituals,” said a wildlife activist familiar with the issue.

Though officials believe that the poaching has been going on for years, they stumbled on the smuggling racket three months ago. Since then, officials identified Ballari and Anantapur as the poaching hubs.

“The scale of the problem is massive,” admitted Punati Sridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who admitted that poaching has persisted over the years despite instructions to their officers and staff to remain vigilant.

Lack of money and the inability to reimburse informants, who trade information for money, are a major challenge for the forest department, Sridhar said. “Unlike the police, we do not have access to the secret service fund which the police employ to pay off informants,” Sridhar explained.

Traffic estimates 5,722 pangolins have fallen prey to illegal poaching across India between 2009 and 2017.

“This is just an estimation. The unknown fraction of the illegal trade is possibly much higher,”
Dr Badola said.

Pangolins consume as much as one lakh ants or termites per day. When threatened, they curl up into a ball where their scales protect them from injury. However, it is a defensive mechanism, which makes them most susceptible to human poachers, who simply scoop them up and throw them into a bag.

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