Wildlife criminals servicing the exotic meat and medicine markets of east and southeast Asia with tiger penis, bear bile, rhino horn and deer musk are now targeting a reptile with sticky feet - Tokay gecko.
Reason: the meat of this nocturnal gecko with reddish spots is believed to cure HIV/AIDS and even cancer.
What's more, some gecko 'suppliers' have even created Facebook accounts offering up to 15 of these reptiles. There are package deals too.
In less than a week, wildlife officials and activists in Manipur seized nine geckos from three places in Bishnupur and Thoubal districts. The geckos - each fetches Rs. 8-20 lakh depending on body weight and length - were being taken to Moreh bordering Myanmar for delivery in Indonesia and Malaysia where they are in great demand.
"We raided two houses on the night of July 30 and rescued the Tokay geckos. The people who captured them had fled before we went in," Bishnupur divisional forest officer L Lukhoi said.
The day before, police in Thoubal district had arrested five persons on their way to Moreh, 105km east of Imphal, with a Tokay gecko. They were later released, as the lizard does not fall in the schedule category of endangered species.
All the seized geckos were released too, in the Keibul Lamjao National Park known more for the highly endangered sangai or brow-antlered deer found nowhere else on earth.
Wildlife activists said a myth was powering the smuggling of Tokay geckos. "We have been trying to tell people these geckos have no medicinal value," said Manipur-based People for Animals member L Bishwajit.
The campaigning hasn't prevented the animal body parts traders from preying on the reptile, each of which fetches R20lakh if reared to a size of 14 inches weighing 250gm.