Maharashtra becomes first state in India to get dedicated action plan to protect pangolins

Updated on Dec 15, 2020 05:39 PM IST

The principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF-wildlife) recently got nod from the state for its proposal to form a study group to prepare a five-year conservation action plan for pangolins

Pangolins are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, implying the highest degree of protection.(Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra and WCCB)
Pangolins are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, implying the highest degree of protection.(Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra and WCCB)
Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By

The Maharashtra forest department is set to be the first state in India to have a dedicated action plan for conservation of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal.

Pangolins are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, implying the highest degree of protection. The principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF-wildlife) recently got nod from the state for its proposal to form a study group to prepare a five-year conservation action plan for pangolins. “We have been informed that the proposal has been accepted,” said Nitin Kakodkar, PCCF-wildlife, adding, “The committee will look into aspects such as population estimation, distribution, habitat protection and most importantly, illicit trafficking hotspots. Unlike tigers and leopards, these are species that have never been in focus despite having a huge ecological role.”

M Maranko, regional deputy director (west), Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), said, “Maharashtra will be the first state to have such a plan. People eat pangolin meat, their scales are valuable in the international market, and are kept by some as a sign of good luck or for superstitions allegedly involving witchcraft. This activates the illegal trade. Our mandate is to coordinate with states, collect intelligence and make the public and enforcement agencies aware.”

Kakodkar said the proposal was planned based on a detailed proposal by Vishwas Katdare, member of the State Board of Wildlife and IUCN Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist group member. “Katdare has been actively working towards pangolin conservation in Ratnagiri for the past four years and will be a leading member of this committee,” he said, adding the panel will be headed by additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife-west) Sunil Limaye and also include the WCCB, among other members.

“Stray cases of pangolin poaching are regularly being reported from Maharashtra. To address this, we need inputs from local people (primary data) to understand the trade and its channels. We need to understand whether it is happening at the local level or if there is an organised network (secondary data). There will be a special focus on Mumbai to check whether the city as a port is functioning as a hub for this trade,” said Kakodkar.

Katdare, the founder of Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), a non-profit operating for the past 26 years, has been studying the population using 40 camera traps and spreading awareness about pangolins across Ratnagiri. Over the past two years, 23 pangolins have been rescued by local people with help from SNM and the forest department. From October, SNM extended their research to Sindhudurg district. “Taking this in perspective, I submitted the proposal to the department to have a roadmap for protecting this species across Maharashtra where pangolins are distributed in maximum numbers along Konkan and Vidarbha. These mammals can survive in different types of habitats, and thus monitoring them is key,” said Katdare.

Meanwhile, WCCB has seen six major cases of pangolin in Maharashtra in 2020. On June 10, six persons were arrested from Nanded and one from Pune where two live pangolins were rescued and on August 30 six persons were arrested at Satara with a live pangolin and items worth Rs. 1.10 lakh.

Maranko explained that based on interrogations with those involved in the trade, they found out that the modus operandi involved local villagers training hunting dogs to catch pangolins. “These dogs are weekly taken to forest areas where they track the scent of pangolins and lead villagers to their burrows. Once pangolins are caught, their scales are removed and sent to the supplier. Their meat is partially processed, consumed by local villagers, and also given to the dogs, which are made dependent on the pangolin meat to easily repeat the process,” he said.

Experts welcomed Maharashtra’s decision and said other states needed to follow it. “As long as the pangolin’s habitat is protected along with strict control on illegal trade, we can have some hope for the species,” said Aniruddha Mookerjee, consultant wildlife advisor, WildCRU, University of Oxford. While Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha in central India are the major areas for pangolin trapping, the scales move to the north east for export, he explained. “The consumption of pangolin meat is much higher in the north eastern states. If states like Assam and Meghalaya can join the states in central India in creating a holistic plan for conservation of both the subspecies, it should have a far better chance of survival,” said Mookerjee.

In February, a study by the South China Agricultural University identified pangolins as the potential intermediate host of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). The study announced the discovery of a 99% genetic match between the new 2019-nCoV virus and a strain of the virus found in pangolins. “We thought that after Covid-19, the trade would reduce but unfortunately in all probability it appears to be the same,” said Saket Badola, head, TRAFFIC India, a wildlife trade monitoring group, adding, “There have been limited efforts to understand the population distribution and estimation for pangolins. We have been flagging this issue repeatedly. However, with interventions being introduced in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand doing a population estimation exercise with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and MP also involved in good work through targeted approaches, awareness among enforcement agencies is much more, and it is clear they are prepared.”

PANGOLIN TRADE ENTERS GUJARAT FROM MAHA, FOREST DEPARTMENT FLAGS ISSUE

The PCCF of the Gujarat forest department wrote to Kakodkar recently about a latest case busted at a farmhouse in Navsari district during the last week of November wherein a live pangolin was seized, which was brought by one of the accused from Katkol village in Nagpur. In all 13 people were arrested in a joint operation by the WCCB and forest department. However, since the live animal was transported from Maharashtra, the PCCF from Gujarat requested the state to address such wildlife crimes.

PANGOLINS: WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

- Pangolins or scaly ant-eaters that are nocturnal creatures spend most of their life as solitary animals (except during mating).

- Being insectivorous mammals, they feed on eggs, larvae and adults of ants and termites acting as biological pest controlling agents. Their long sticky tongue is used for feeding on insects and are devoid of any teeth. Remain inactive and hide in their burrows during day-time. They roll their body to form a ball like structure in-case they sense the presence of predators in their vicinity. They secrete strong odour through their anal glands that is used in defense.

- The keratin scales are believed to have medicinal properties and are used widely in traditional Chinese. The scales are also used in manufacture of boots, bullet-proof jackets etc. The scales and skin of an adult Pangolin together weighs about 3.5 kg.

- Pangolin are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, implying the highest degree of protection, and grouped as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

- The species is also listed under the Appendix I of the International Convention of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prohibits international commercial trade.

- Among eight pangolin species globally, four each are found in Asia and Africa. India is home to two species - Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) and the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata). Chinese pangolin is known to occur in Northern and North-Eastern India. Indian Pangolin is widely distributed throughout the country except the Himalayan region.

(Source: Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra)

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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