New Delhi, Feb 16 (PTI) Nearly 6,000 pangolins were illegally traded in India between 2009 and 2017 despite a ban on it, a wildlife trade monitoring network today claimed, on the eve of the World Pangolin Day 2018.Also Read - West Bengal Lockdown: Restrictions Imposed In THIS Town After Surge in Covid-19 Cases | Check What's Allowed, What's Not

Terming the figures as “alarming” and a “cause of concern”, wildlife experts said the population decline of the species could lead to serious ecological imbalance. Also Read - Giant 75 Kg 'Telia Bhola' Fish Caught in Sunderbans River, Sold For Over Rs 36 Lakh

However, this is just a “conservative” estimate and the actual number could be much higher, warned the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, a strategic alliance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Also Read - West Bengal Schools, Colleges Not to Reopen on November 15. Here's Why

Pangolins, considered the most trafficked mammal species globally, are targeted mainly for their meat and scales.

“At least 5,772 pangolins were found in illegal wildlife trade in India during the period 2009–2017; close to 650 pangolins every year since 2009.” “However, this is a conservative estimate and as only a fraction of illegal wildlife trade is detected, the actual number is likely to be far higher,” a statement from TRAFFIC said.

Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy and as a “tonic food” because of its unproven yet alleged medicinal properties while its scales are used as an ingredient in traditional medicines as they are believed to cure various ailments.

Most of the poaching and smuggling was believed to be targeted to international markets in China and Southeast Asia, the network said.

TRAFFIC’s latest study recorded 90 cases of pangolin seizures in India during the nine-year study period, of which the majority (83) were of pangolin scales, clearly indicating that scales are the main pangolin product trafficked in the country.

“Manipur and Tamil Nadu emerged as the hotspots for pangolin smuggling, where the majority of seizures took place,” the study revealed.

Between 2009 to 2013, most of the 46 seizures were made in eastern or north-eastern parts of India, including Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, and West Bengal.

Between 2014–2017, the majority of the 44 seizures were from southern and central parts of India, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

“This could indicate a regional shift in the poaching and smuggling of pangolins in India,” the statement said.

The number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade in India is of concern and without proper population estimates, the impact of such trade is unclear and could pose a significant threat to the species, Saket Badola, head of TRAFFIC’s India office, said.

“There is no better time than the World Pangolin Day to take urgent action for pangolins.

“Enforcement agencies should re-double their efforts to curtail poaching and illegal trade in pangolins through improved inter agency co-operation and co-ordination, and collaborate with their colleagues in transit and destination market countries to secure an international crackdown on the criminal elements orchestrating wildlife trafficking,” he said.

Hunting and trade in both the pangolin species-Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata and the Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla- found in India is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 .

International trade is prohibited under Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Indian Pangolin is found across almost all of the country while the distribution of the Chinese Pangolin in India is restricted to the north-east.

“The large number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade is alarming, as a population decline of pangolins could lead to serious ecological imbalance.

“Pangolins, often called scaly anteaters, are considered farmer’s friends as they help to keep a check on populations of ants and termites and help improve soil quality,” said Ravi Singh, CEO, WWF-India.

He added that it was important that efforts were directed to stop poaching and smuggling of pangolins in India.

“More efforts to understand their status are necessary, simultaneously to plan future strategies for conservation of pangolins in the wild,” he said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.