Assam’s international airport a hub for smuggling wildlife products?

Shillong, June 21 (Calcutta Tube) Assam’s Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport appears to have become one of the main transit points for smugglers to transport wildlife products to China and Far East Asia.

In less than a week, customs seized tiger skeletons and pangolin scales worth more than Rs.5 crore (over a million dollars) from the airport.

‘From the frequent seizures, Guwahati has become the main hub for smugglers to tranship endangered wildlife products to China and the Far East via Myanmar,’ North East Customs Commissioner S.R. Baruah told IANS.

India shares a 1,600-km unfenced border with Myanmar.

The modus operandi used by the smugglers has made the customs authorities rethink their strategy afresh.

For example, the address of the consigner and consignee are vague. The address of the consigner is simply Peter, Dimapur, while that of the consignee is K. Singh, Imphal, making it difficult to get to the poachers.

Customs sleuths Sunday seized from the airport another Royal Bengal Tiger skeleton and 271 kg of pangolin scales – 146 kg from Berhampur in Orissa and 125 kg from Dimapur (Nagaland).

The consignments were booked in Dimapur and Berhampur and sent through the railway mail service to Guwahati. It was meant to be airlifted to Imphal (in Manipur) by an airline.

This is the third seizure by customs officials in less than a week of endangered animal products intercepted at the Guwahati international airport.

‘Transhipments of wildlife products through Guwahati airport to Imphal has been going on for quite some time. They (smugglers) take advantage of the airports scanners as they cannot detect biological objects,’ Baruah said.

It appears Dimapur (in Nagaland) has become a collection centre of wildlife products due to its close proximity with Assam’s Karbi Anglong district and the Kaziranga National Park, the customs officials said.

‘They (smugglers) have opted to tranship the wildlife products by flights rather than using the Dimapur-Imphal road (National Highway No.39) mainly to evade military checkpoints,’ Baruah said.

Not only wildlife products but red sanders, a moderate-sized deciduous tree, bound for China and the Far East too have been smuggled out from Andhra Pradesh via New Delhi to Guwahati airport through domestic airlines.

Red Sanders, an endangered tree species, is smuggled out of India mainly through Manipur and Mizoram and a smuggling racket is active in the region, Baruah said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, customs sleuths seized a full-grown Royal Bengal Tiger skeleton from Guwahati airport along with 320 kg of pangolin scales.

A kilo of pangolin scales is worth about Rs.60,000 while a gram of crushed tiger bone costs almost Rs.1,000 in the international market.

‘This is a huge concern. India’s tiger population simply cannot sustain such pressure. Every enforcement agency, government officer, politician, and every civilian should do whatever they can to stop this crime against India’s wild tigers,’ Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India said over telephone from New Delhi.

‘Tiger bones are largely smuggled to China for use in traditional medicines, fashion and high-end products,’ Wright said.

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