Forest camera traps set up for capturing big cats, like tigers, in Andhra Pradesh have come in handy for shooting pictures of Indian pangolins as well. Categorised as endangered, the Indian pangolin is a large, ant-eating wild animal covered dorsally by up to 13 rows of scales.
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 forelimbs.
Shanti Priya Pandey, APCCF (Wild Life), said that the camera traps in Srisailam that are used to capture pictures of tigers are now being used to shoot pictures of pangolins in the area. According to Pandey, the research study on pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, is not restricted to Srisailam but stretches throughout the Eastern Ghats.
"At present, we started in four ranges in Markapur…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 Andra Pradesh, but the Forest Department did not do an official count. The estimation will provide a range to "understand how many of them are there."
The contiguous and extensive habitat of Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) is more conducive for the survey, especially considering the reports 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. We are trying to understand the nexus and areas of operation of these smugglers," she said.
According to sources, pangolins command a price ranging between ₹1 crore and ₹3 crore in the illegal trade markets, depending on their size, luring many poachers. Smugglers go after the scales of the animal, which easily fall off on plunging the anteater in hot water, that are peddled for use in handbags, 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.
Also read: Tigers are making their own maps of India