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Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Despite slew of legal actions against poaching and ample awareness activities, Odisha’s wildlife seems to be slipping into the extinction crisis due to rampant rise in illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products.

In the last couple of years, the State has witnessed countless incidents of elephants, leopards, pangolin, deer and other animals killed for tusk, skin, skulls, teeth and bones among others. 

The movement of inter-state wildlife smugglers into Odisha to carry out poaching activities has raised grave concerns on the future of the fast vanishing fauna in the State. While the smugglers involved in the racket are making huge returns by selling the wildlife products in the international markets, forest officials and police personnel are able to nab only a handful of such criminals.

Many such instances have emerged in various parts of the State in last few days leading to the arrest of some wildlife criminals and seizure of the wildlife products.

Five persons were arrested from different areas in Odisha in connection with their involvement in illegal wildlife trade a few days ago. A special squad of the forest department conducted a raid at Khandadhua area in Deogarh district on Friday morning and nabbed three persons red-handed while they were making a deal to sell leopard skin. The hide of the wild animal was seized from the possession of the accused.

A day before, in a joint operation by Keonjhar and Karanjia forest officials, seven persons were held in Mayurbjanj and a leopard skin was seized from their possession. 

Karanjia DFO Srikant Nayak has expressed confidence that they will be able to trace the root of the wildlife racket after further investigation.

“The wild animal was killed in Keonjhar and we have arrested the kingpin and his associates. They are being questioned and we are hopeful of tracing the root of the racket,” said Nayak.

In another instance of wildlife smuggling, Sambalpur police seized 11 antlers from a city bus in the district and arrested a person in this connection.

Two wildlife criminals were held by a Special Task Force (STF) team at Ainapali village under Tushura police station in Bolangir district for illegally possessing a live pangolin. During the search operation, one live pangolin weighing around 11 kg and other incriminating materials were recovered from their possession. As per primary report, an organised racket is behind the illegal wildlife trade.

Later, the live pangolin was handed over to Bolangir Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) for safe custody. The Indian pangolin is a solitary, shy, slow moving, nocturnal mammal. It is a Schedule-I protected species under Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 which provides absolute protection to the endangered species. 

As per STF of the Crime Branch, as many as 26 leopard skins, 15 tusks, 7 deer skins have been seized and 12 live pangolins and 46 parrots have been rescued by forest and police officials in Odisha from 2021 till date. Sixty three wildlife criminals have been arrested in connection with the cases.

Former PCCF (Wildlife) Bijay Ketan Patnaik said the forest officials should be fully alert to keep a tab on the movement of smugglers and curb wildlife poaching in the State.

“Forest officials and police should build up powerful intelligence to keep a strict vigil on wildlife poachers and smugglers. Their license should be strictly checked and stern actions should be taken against the criminals to keep the wildlife trade at bay,” said Patnaik.

As per another wildlife expert, there is an urgent need for better research and action to bring the legal wildlife trade within sustainable levels and stop all illegal trade that has threatened and even pushed many species towards extinction.

(Edited by Suryakant Jena)

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