Scaly ant-eater Indian pangolin, which is locally called salla, is the only mammal found in Pakistan with hard keratinised protective scales on its body. It is a near-threatened species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ red list of threatened species (2005). Despite its being a protected animal, people are still capturing and killing it illegally for its scales. The price of an Indian pangolin varies between Rs8000 to Rs12000 (approximately US$100). A research team of Arid Agriculture University of Rawalpindi working on Indian pangolin in the Potohar plateau discovered brutal killing and illegal trade of this animal in the region. The team got the first evidence of Indian pangolin’s killing in December 2011, when it found skeletons of six animals of this species along with a dead pangolin whose scales had been removed in Chakri near Motorway-2. All animals seemed to have been killed for their scales. In March 2012, carcasses of 18 Indian pangolins were found in jute sacs, their scales removed, in a railway tunnel near Chakwal.
Four more carcasses were found at a distance of about 500 meters from the same tunnel. The research team learned from reliable local sources that about 24 kg scales of Indian pangolin were sent to Islamabad from Chakwal in February 2012. A case was filed by the district wildlife officer against a nomad in Chakwal but now the officer is being pressurised by some local politicians to stop working on it. In June 2011, more reports of killing of Indian pangolins were received from the Pind Dadan Khan area of district Jhelum and some areas of Islamabad including Malpur on Murree Road which falls in the boundary of protected area of Margalla Hills National Park Islamabad. Twenty more scale-less dead bodies of the Indian pangolin, including baby pangolins, were found on March 15, 2012, dumped in the same railway tunnel in Chakwal.
This rare species is being killed in the Potohar area including Islamabad in a brutal manner. The killer boils the animal in hot water to obtain its scales which are used in making bullet-proof jackets. The animal has protected status in the country and its killing and trade in any form is illegal. The people involved in its killing must be identified and stopped. These people use nomads in different areas of the plateau for capturing and killing the animal. If urgent measures are not taken to save this unique animal species, which has a very low reproductive rate, it will result in its extinction in Pakistan.
Dr Tariq Mahmood