Pangolin scales, tortoises seized from airport, station

KOLKATA/HOWRAH: Raids carried out at the city airport and at Howrah railway station on Saturday led to the seizure of Pangolin scales and live tortoises. While the Pangolin scales were being sent to Manipur for being smuggled across the international border into Myanmar for transit to China, the live tortoises were headed for Burdwan.

During the day, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) sleuths raided the cargo complex of a private airline at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and seized six white boxes containing 501kg of Pangolin scales. The consignment had apparently arrived from Chennai and was marked for Imphal in Manipur.

The Pangolin is a species of anteater found in forests across the country. In the absence of any census, it has not been known exactly how this illegal trade in their scales has impacted the population of the species in India. Conservationists, however, claimed that akin to other endangered species, Pangolins are also vanishing from Indian forests.

According to wildlife experts, Pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch a price of `60,000 per kg in the international market. However, international trade of Pangolin scales is banned as it is included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Pangolins are also listed as "near-threatened" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

In the last couple of years, several hundred kgs of Pangolin scales have been seized from

various places in the North-East. Though trading in Pangolin scales can land a person behind bars for upto five years, the

perpetrators of the crime are hardly ever arrested. Even on Saturday, an investigation by the DRI revealed that the addresses of the consignor and consignee are fake. Efforts are now on to trace the courier firm that was involved in sending the consignment.

In the second case, Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel raided the S-12 coach of the Down New Delhi-Howrah Poorva Express and seized 31 live tortoises. The tortoises were being brought to Howrah by a 60-year-old woman who has been identified as Puri Tanti.

"During interrogation, she said that she was to take the tortoises to Burdwan. We suspect that she was simply a courier and that there are others involved in the racket. The consignment seems to have been loaded on the train at Mughalsarai. We have contacted the West Bengal forest department to take charge of the tortoises," a senior RPF officer said.

While trade, traffic and consumption of tortoises are strictly banned in India, these animals continue to be openly sold at markets, primarily as a delicacy. Some of them are collected by owners of private aquariums.