STF closes ranks against wildlife mafia

Even as the Wildlife Week was observed from October 2 to 8, the illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products seems to have reached alarming proportions in Odisha.

In the last couple of years, the State has witnessed several incidents of elephants, leopards, pangolin and other animals being slaughtered for tusks, skin, skulls, teeth and bones among others.The involvement of inter-State wildlife smugglers in executing the crimes in Odisha has become a headache for the enforcement agencies. However, Special Task Force (STF), the specialised wing of Odisha Police set up to combat organised crimes, has closed ranks against illegal animal trade in the State.

During investigation of wildlife crimes in 2020, the agency has seized as many as 16 leopard hides, nine elephant tusks, two deer skins, five live pangolins, and 15 kg pangolin scales and arrested 35 wildlife smugglers in various cases. 

Only a couple of days ago, the STF rescued a live pangolin by intercepting a car and arresting two persons near Khordha town. Earlier, on October 6, the STF had arrested a person in Kandhamal district and seized a leopard skin from his possession. STF DIG Jay Naryan Pankaj has said that there is a chain of smugglers involved in this trade.  But the STF getting sufficient evidence to nail the wildlife criminals is a difficult job.  For that they have explored new forensic solutions, integrating them into training and investigations. 

The evidence stored on criminal’s mobile devices-photographs, GPS information, incoming and outgoing phone calls, are precious evidence for investigations and prosecutions.  DNA sequencing, fingerprint analyses and facial recognition are used today to determine the identity of poached or illegally traded wildlife products, or to identify the species, geographic origin, relatedness, individual identity and age of samples, suggested knowledgeable sources, Wildlife experts said the, not only in the Odisha or India, illegal wildlife trade is devastating wildlife species the world over, as poachers, traffickers and highly-organised criminal syndicates ruthlessly pursue profit at any cost to meet the high consumer demand.

The trafficking and unsustainable trade in wildlife commodities such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, tiger bone and leopard skins, bear bile among others are causing unprecedented decline in some of the world’s most charismatic, as well as some lesser-known, wildlife species.  Wildlife crime is a big business. Run by dangerous international networks, wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms.And the profile of the wildlife criminal has changed.  Today they are organised, innovative, well-connected and run global syndicates that commission the mass slaughter and capture of protected species in all parts of the world. 

These criminals import and export endangered species for international trade via same routes they use to smuggle weapons, drugs and other illicit goods.  The international characteristics of these crimes and their links with organised crime make the role of police cooperation across borders fundamental to tackling wildlife crime, opined experts.

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