Odisha’s Pangolin Crusader Bags UN Green Award

Bhubaneswar: Odisha’s Sasmita Lenka will receive UNEP’s Asia Environment Enforcement Award this year in recognition for her work on combating against pangolin poaching in the state.

The 47-year-old officer braved threats to her life to arrest 28 including eight smugglers, and rescued five pangolins, seized one dead one, and recovered five kilos of pangolin scales. She was responsible for all the legal action taken against the smugglers between August 2019 and April 2020 during her stint in the Athagarh and Khunpunni forest range.

How she busted the gang?

“There was no information on the presence of pangolins in this area, and no action by authorities had been reported with respect to the illegal trade. Not many locals knew about it. Some even thought it was a bird,” Sasmita told The Better India.

However, she was sure of the existence of the network in the forest area, and deployed informers across the jurisdiction to receive tip-offs on such illegal activities. Within a month, she rescued a pangolin from Kharod village, and began busting other gangs. The case revealed the presence of an active network that had not been on the radar, probably for years. Further investigation provided deeper insight into and understanding of the network.

How do traffickers operate?

An agent or middleman approaches the tribal people in the area and asks them if they know where pangolins could be found. They sometimes share photos or videos of the animal. A few locals are usually aware of the pangolin’s whereabouts, but don’t know how endangered the species are. All the information is exchanged online. These locals usually pick up the animal for the agent in exchange for a few thousand rupees. When the animal is exchanged between agents across different states, the value increases to lakhs,” she told Better India.

The pangolin travels across the country through sea or land. An adult pangolin can earn up to Rs 10 lakh. Four inches of scale can fetch around Rs 10,000. “The scales are weighed in grams. Imagine what 5 kilos of seizure would cost,” she was quoted as saying.http://

About the pangolin

These mammals are usually about the size of a house cat, have no teeth, and do not squeak, howl, or even attack. They have overlapping keratin scales across their bodies. Their only defence mechanism is to curl into a ball when they sense danger.

The shy and nocturnal ant-eating animal is the most trafficked animal in the world and is on the red list of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The animal is in high demand in international markets for its meat, blood, and scales, which are assumed to have medicinal properties. However, very little is known about the Indian pangolin, found across the Himalayan region, predominantly in Odisha.


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