Raipur: Two days after the Chhattisgarh Police arrested a man with a rare pangolin species from Gariaband district, it confirmed that the suspected smuggler was also from Odisha’s Nuapada district, as were the two other alleged poachers who were arrested with pangolins nearly a fortnight ago.
The police arrested 28-year-old Pitambar Kata Friday with a live pangolin — an endangered, ‘scaly anteater’ mammal — from the Kulhadighat forest area, which borders the state of Odisha.
“Pitambar was arrested, following a tip-off by an informer, as he waited for a client to hand out the rare pangolin species kept in a sack. The pangolin was immediately rescued and given to the forest officials to leave it back in the wild while the man was sent for judicial remand after being presented in the court Saturday,” Gariaband Superintendent of Police Bhojram Patel told ThePrint.
However, the police confirmed that Kata has not yet confessed to his crime, and that he could be part of a wider wildlife trafficking network.
“It appears that the seized pangolin was netted by the poacher from nearby Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve that lies between the two states. It’s also a Naxal-infested belt and the village where the arrest was made lies on the hilltop,” said Bhushan Chandrakar, SHO at the block Mainpur, who led the team that made the arrest.
Chandrakar added, “Kata could be a part of a wider wildlife smuggling network in the country as some vital information have been accessed by the police that cannot be divulged now.”
Pangolins recently made headlines because initial reports suggested that the Covid-19 virus may have come from these rare mammals. The first case of coronavirus was recorded in the wet markets of Wuhan in China, where live animals including pangolins were traded.
Poacher could be part of smuggling network that leads to China
According to SP Patel, the police were probing a possible connection between the three men arrested with pangolins within a span of 15 days from different locations bordering the Nuapada district.
A smuggler duo was arrested with two pangolins in a joint operation with the neighbouring Mahasamund police on 14 June, said Patel.
He also confirmed that several such smugglers had been arrested in the area in the last few months.
“Several poachers including two men with leopard skins and 3-4 diamond smugglers were also arrested from this area in the last couple of months. We are dwelling into similar arrests made from these areas in the last few years and are also trying to investigate if there is a bigger network of wildlife criminals involved in this. However, it will take time to establish that if any,” Patel told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, a police officer from Gariaband noted that even though there is no direct evidence available yet, the three pangolin smugglers could be connected to an interstate wildlife crime network that leads to Chinese wet markets.
Pangolins are trafficked illegally in China due to their use in pseudoscientific traditional medicines. Recently, China raised the protected status of pangolins and removed them from the official listing of ingredients approved for use in traditional medicines.
“It’s a well-known fact that Indian and Chinese pangolins are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 for being rare species at par with lions, tigers, leopards and elephants. There is huge demand mainly for pangolin scales and meat in China. Investigation will take place from all aspects,” said Arun Kumar Pandey, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Chhattisgarh.
Pandey added that the department had received the recovered pangolin from the police, and the animal will be given adequate medical aid if needed and then released into the wild again.