Customs officials on Sunday seized a huge consignment of tiger bones and other animal parts estimated at a whopping Rs 10.66 million and destined for use in traditional medicines in China, an official said.
A customs official said the seizure was made from the Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati and includes tiger bones and skulls, besides 125 kg of pangolin scales.
"The animal organs were estimated at about Rs 10.66 million if sold in the international market," Customs Superintendent S. Das told IANS.
The consignment came in neatly packed sacks from Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, in a regular flight and reached Guwahati.
"The consignment was booked as parcels by Speed Post (government posts department courier service) and was destined for (Manipur capital) Imphal," Das said.
"We are now focusing on how to bust the racket and arrest the main kingpins involved."
The official said preliminary investigations indicate the consignment would have gone by road from Imphal to Myanmar to its final destination, somewhere in China.
"This is the route for animal organs smuggling syndicates with animal organs like tiger bones, rhino horns, pangolin scales, going from Assam into Manipur and then finding their way to Myanmar before reaching other South Asian countries," the official said.
On Thursday, a similar consignment was seized from the same airport here worth an estimated Rs 20 million.
"An organised international animal organs trafficking syndicate is operating here. Tigers are killed in some wildlife sanctuaries in Assam and then the organs that are in demand are carefully segregated for smuggling to China," Das said.
People in China and other South Asian countries use tiger fat to treat leprosy and rheumatism, while tiger claws are used as a sedative, teeth for fever and nose leather for dog bites.
Tiger bone is used in Vietnam as a balm to alleviate rheumatism and general weakness. But it is the demand for medicines derived from ancient Chinese traditions that drives today's market for tiger parts.
The scales of the pangolin are used in conjunction with herbs to treat a host of conditions, including masses in the abdomen, rheumatism, skin and external diseases, besides invigorating the blood, promoting menstruation and lactation, reducing swelling and dispelling pus.
Profits in the illegal animal organs trade are staggering - a rhino horn sells for up to Rs 1.5 million per kilogram in the international market after the horns are smuggled to clandestine Asian markets.
A kilogram of pangolin scales is worth about Rs 60,000, while a gram of crushed tiger bone costs about Rs.1,000 in the international market, customs officials said.
Tiger hunting is illegal worldwide and the trade in tiger parts is banned under a treaty binding 167 countries, including India.
A possible route of animal organs smuggling is to Kathmandu via Siliguri and then from Nepal to China and the Middle East. The other possible route is from Imphal to Moreh on the Manipur border with Myanmar and then via Myanmar to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.