Curious case of Mizoram’s missing pangolin scales

Curious case of Mizoram’s missing pangolin scales

A mystery has confronted investigators ever since a third of all pangolin scales seized in Mizoram disappeared in May and possibly resurfaced three weeks later — with some portion of the batch missing — in a seizure more than 350 km away. While agencies have so far failed to connect the dots, they haven’t ruled out the possibility of the two incidents being linked.

Around the end of May, forest department discovered that 292 kg of seized pangolin scales, locked up inside its godown in Kolasib had been replaced by fakes. The missing scales made up for more than a third of the 848 kg pangolin scales seized by various law enforcement agencies from smugglers since 2012. Pangolins are protected under law, but their scales are valued in some Asian countries, for decorative and medicinal properties.

A case was registered soon after the Kolasib incident, but initial probe apparently led to nowhere. On June 11, a joint operation by police and Assam Rifles seized six bags, with reportedly 216 kg pangolin scales, from a bus at Farkawn, a village close to the border with Myanmar, at six in the evening.

During the handover to the forest department the next day, Assam Riles declared that the consignment weighed 216 kg. But forest officials claim the bags given to them were lighter by 32.5 kg.

As of now, forest officials are clueless about what went wrong. There are only two theories—scales going missing during the 20 hours between seizure and transfer to forest department or a weighing error by the Assam Rifles.

What complicated matters was the bus driver’s testimony that the cargo was loaded by one Hmangaihthangi of Kawlkulh village, over 164 km from Farkawn.

Hmangaihthangi admitted loading the cargo, but said it belonged to a Myanmarese trader she knew as Paliana, which in Mizo means a big man. According to her, she knew Paliana from before and met him unexpectedly in Aizawl nine days before the seizure, while she was there for a medical check-up.

After the man gave her Rs 1,000 to help her with the bills, she claimed he asked for a favour asking her to load some of his wares, coming from Shillong to Aizawl on June 9, to a Farkawn-bound bus. Hmangaihthangi said she obliged and left for Kawlkulh the following day. A day later, the cargo was seized.

Officials haven’t ruled out the possibility that the 216 kg (or 183.5 kg, as it turned out) of the seized scales are part of the 292 kg batch that was replaced with fakes at the forest department godown at Kolasib less than three weeks earlier.

Forest Minister Lalrinmawia Ralte, who gave a report about the missing scales at Congress Bhavan Friday, said, “It is difficult to say anything definite as long as Paliana is not found and arrested first.”

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