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BHUBANESWAR: The seizure of a series of wildlife items by a joint team of Crime Branch and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) from Bargarh has exposed the dark underbelly of Forest Department in Odisha.
The main accused, Sushil Bhue, who was arrested with a foot-long ivory, weighing about 900 grams, was a watcher with the Bhatli Range under Bargarh Forest Division. Bhue hails from a village under Ambabhona police limits. The Department, however, has no clue about his past.
Basing on the intelligence inputs from WCCB, the Crime Branch formed a joint team which carried out a decoy operation during which Bhue was arrested with the ivory.
“We have information that he was engaged with protection duty as a temporary staff. We would seek his termination from the job now as he has been arrested,” said Special DG, Crime Branch, Bijay Kumar Sharma. The Crime Branch is trying to ascertain if the ivory belonged to an elephant which died in Bhatli range.
Another raid led to seizure of a leopard skin, bear nails and at least 153 pieces of pangolin scales from Mahendra Bariha and Daitari Sara. “Initial investigation shows that new pockets of Western districts are now finding place on the illegal trade map. Pangolin hunting and smuggling appears to be rampant in these pockets,” Sharma said. Bargarh, an agricultural belt, did not report much wildlife while illegal trade was almost unheard of. This spate of seizures had busted the myth now.
Wildlife poaching and clandestine trade is huge in many parts of Western Odisha given its proximity to Central India, where poaching communities from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh operate.
“Graziers from these landscape regularly visit the forests in the bordering districts and work as a communication point for the hunters. Gandhamardan and Sunabeda are their happy hunting ground,” sources said.
Bariha and Sara, both from Mahasamud in Chhattisgarh, had brought the pangolin scale from MP for sale in Bargarh. A minor species, pangolin is being hunted rampantly for its meat as well as scales. Much of it also goes to Mizoram. Pangolin scales are a massive trade in these pockets and those are believed to be finding their way to China too, where it is sold at US 3,000 dollars a-kg.
The accused could be part of a larger network of poachers and smugglers active in Western pockets and trade the wildlife items. The fact that the forest staff were even unaware of the raids conducted by a team from WCCB Delhi and CB, speaks volumes about the pathetic intelligence system of the Forest Department.
Another search operation by CB and WCCB yielded an animal skin, a second hide, a skull and some bones. The skull is stated to be that of a leopard. The items were handed over to Bargarh division for identification.