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Trader, son held in pangolin poaching case

                                                                                                                                     The Times of India, Kolkata, 16th May, 2015

KOLKATA: The Special Task Force ( STF) of the forest department of Madhya Pradesh arrested a city-based businessman and his son for their alleged involvement in poaching of pangolin. The arrests have revealed a massive racket that is not only spread across the country but has its presence in the international market too.

While Jamal Iqbal, 59, is into leather business, his son Danish, 24, was studying marine engineering. "Jamal is a key link between local poachers and South Asian smugglers. We want to get to the bottom of the global ring. They are brutal gangsters who dip pangolins in boiling water to extract scales," chief wildlife warden of Madhya Pradesh Narendra Kumar told TOI over phone.

After interrogating the father-son duo, the Madhya Pradesh forest department arrested another 16 people from Chhindwara district, including a corporator identified as Nafeez Ahmed, and a few more form Chhatisgarh. However, there are many others who operate in a systematic way to run one of the biggest poaching rackets in the country.

"The father-son duo was working for the last one year and we have evidence that they smuggled this endangered species to China at least six times during that period. We have information that they are part of a global racket and we will investigate that," chief conservator of forests (Chhindwara) Chitranjan Tyagi said.

A team from the forest department of Chhindwara will come to Kolkata for further investigation. "They haven't confirmed the date yet. If they come, we will surely cooperate with them," principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Azim Zaidi said. An officer said there are four layers in the global network and Jamal is part of the second one. Passport and other documents reveal they visited China frequently. Officials claim there are two smuggling routes to China — via Nepal through north Bengal and through Manipur and Myanmar.

"The racket is operating in Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South 24-Parganas and Nadia, too. These places are vulnerable because they have big porous borders through which the pangolin is smuggled to China and Vietnam, where its blood, meat and scales are sold to traditional medical practitioners at a premium. Poachers mainly take the Nepal and Bangladesh route. There is vigil, but the border is so long and porous that it is impossible to keep an eye on it," wildlife expert Biswajit Roychowdhury said.

Foresters said tribals hunt pangolins in the forest and are paid Rs 400-500 per kg for the scales. These are then sold to people like Jamal for something between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 and then shipped to China where these are sold for Rs 1 lakh or more. Roasted pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicines for detoxification of blood, draining pus, curing palsy and stimulating lactation. Its blood is used to treat asthma, cancer and reproductive problems.