Forest camera traps set up for capturing big cats, tigers, in Andhra Pradesh have come in handy for shooting the pictures of Indian pangolins as well.
Categorised as endangered, the Indian pangolin is a large ant-eating wild animal, which bears up to 13 rows of dorsal scales and more on other sides. Known to dangle its sticky tongue longer than its body, the pangolin licks up insects to feast on them from deep crevices and burrows, after smashing open termite mounds and ant hills with its energetic forelimbs.
”Whatever camera traps we have in Srisailam which are used for capturing the images of tigers, we are using these camera traps also to capture the images of pangolins in these areas,” said Shanti Priya Pandey, APCCF (Wild Life).
According to Pandey, the research study on pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, is not restricted to Srisailam alone but stretches throughout the Eastern Ghats.
”Presently we started in Markapur in four ranges…We will scan the entire Srisailam forest. After that we plan to do it in Visakhapatnam and Papikondalu. We will try to also estimate the numbers. But the stronghold is Srisailam,” said the senior Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officer.
She highlighted that pangolins have always existed in the Telugu state but the Forest department did not have their count, which will now be discovered and recorded.
”So, at least a range of numbers can be arrived at so that we can understand how many of them are there. Peg it at some number so that we can safely say that these are the numbers of pangolins that are available,” Pandey added. Incidentally, the contiguous and extensive habitat of Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) is more conducive for the survey, especially considering the reports of existence of sizeable numbers of scaly anteaters in Atmakur and Markapur, including seizures in NSTR, Vijayawada and Guntur.
”We will backtrack to understand where these people are smuggling…we have seized pangolins in the Srikakulam area also. So we are trying to understand the nexus and areas of operation of these smugglers. We tried to find out where exactly these are coming from,” she observed.
According to sources, pangolins command a price ranging between Rs 1 crore and Rs 3 crore in the illegal trade markets, depending on their size, luring many poachers.
Incidentally, smugglers go after the scales of the animal, which easily fall off on plunging the anteater in hot water to be peddled for use in hand bags, leather industry and others, including in traditional Chinese medicine.
On World Pangolin Day (February 18), the southern state’s Forest department spread the message concerning the importance of conserving the anteater, including highlighting that Andhra Pradesh houses the last bastion of pangolins in the Eastern Ghats.