Madhya Pradesh which gained global notoriety for unabated poaching of tigers is now being lauded at international forums for its big breakthrough in busting the Indo-China pangolin smuggling syndicate. With 82 smugglers arrested from nine states across country, the Chinese fetish for aphrodisiacs from pangolin oil has been stomped out by the big bust.
Now, Special Task Force of state forest department is working with Interpol to nab remaining gang bases in China, Vietnam, Nepal and Malaysia. They were brutal gangsters, who would dip pangolins in boiling water to extract scales. The pan-India network and supply link to China has been wiped out.
More than 50,000 pangolin species have been smuggled out in last few years. The figure could be more, but STF officials shy away from disclosing data. “Forget about what we have lost, at least the remaining ones can survive,” said an STF officer.
The big catch in the syndicate chain was Rajkumar Bothra, 45, resident of Kareemnagar area in Assam. He was nabbed after a tip-off by Kolkata-based marine engineer Danish and 12 others in May 2015. Bothra is said to be one of the middleman in the international syndicate involved in Indian pangolins to China and Vietnam.
This gang allegedly confessed to poaching and trafficking of 100 pangolins from Madhya Pradesh to China in last 12 months. Officials also confiscated 2 kg pangolin scales from their possession. Blood, meat and scales of pangolins are sold to traditional medical practitioners at a premium in south eastern countries.
Those arrested from Kolkata have been identified as Jamal Iqbal, 59, and his son Danish, 24. Eleven others, including an independent corporator were arrested from Chhindwara district.
While Jamal is into leather business, his son Danish was studying marine engineering and was arrested before completion of his course. Jamal had developed a large pangolin poaching network in Madhya Pradesh with help of Nafeez Ahmad, an independent corporator in Chhindwara.
“Tribals are used to picking up pangolins from forests and are paid Rs 400 to 500 per kg for scales. It was then forwarded to Jamal between Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 and was further shipped to China where it’s sold for around Rs 1 lakh and more,” said and STF officer.
The entire operation was carried out by officer in charge (OIC) STF Ritesh Sirothia, range officer, Nitin Nigam, forest guard Chandra Sekhar Sharma, Rajkumar Yadav, Ravi Sharma and Anil Yadav under direct supervision of state’s chief wildlife warden Ravi Srivastava and his subordinate R P Singh.
Those arrested include 23 from MP, seven from Maharashtra, two from Odisha, two from Andhra Pradesh, one from Chhattisgarh, two from West Bengal and one from Mizoram. This ant-eating mammal with armour of keratin scales has been listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species.
Experts said, “If poaching continues, pangolins could go extinct. “Officials claim there are two smuggling routes to China-Nepal through north Bengal, Manipur and Myanmar. In traditional Chinese medicine, roasted pangolin scales are used for detoxification of blood, draining pus, curing palsy and stimulating lactation while its blood is used to treat asthma, cancer and reproductive problems in China.
Madhya Pradesh forest department also sought help from environment crime wing of International Criminal Police Organisation, Interpol, in a desperate attempt to arrest four Myanmar and Chinese nationals in connection with poaching of tigers, smooth-coated otters, turtles and other near extinct wildlife species from the state.
There were regular inputs on seizure of hides of tigers (apparently poached from protected areas of MP) in countries like Ethiopia and Nepal, but this is for the first time the state approached Interpol. STF of MP forest department has sent a dossier of ‘most wanted foreign nationals’ — around 12 — to CBI, which is National central bureau (NCB) for Interpol in India. NCB India will forward this report to Interpol’s general secretariat headquarters in Lyon (France). Another key player of the gang on wanted list is Amir Hussain Laskhar of Assam and his female associate Zobi Hmar.
In January, Interpol contacted MP government for details about Jaiy Tamang, 42, a resident of Nepal, who was arrested from Delhi’s Majnu ka Tila area for trading in pangolins scales and tiger hides. Tamang, who is said to be a middleman between wildlife traders in MP and foreign countries secured bail from local court, which was later dismissed by MP High court on April 21 in a 13-paged judgement. Coordination between MPFD and INTERPOL is being cited as an encouraging effort towards curbing wildlife crime.