Odisha forest officer Sasmita Lanka became the first official in India to be felicitated with United Nation's Asia Environmental Enforcement Award.
The divisional forest officer in Athgarh, Cuttack was awarded under the 'Gender Leadership and Impact' category for busting pangolin smuggling rackets in the state. Lanka has helped officials bust an international pangolin smuggling network in Athgarh and Khunnpunni.
"We have seized three pangolins, including a dead one, and arrested 28 smugglers. The pangolins were being supplied to China, Vietnam, and Myanmar for black marketing." Lanka who is now posted as deputy conservator of forest in the Bhubaneswar district headquarters, told ANI.
A reward of Rs 10,000 was announced for information about suspects. "Residents across 30 villages reached out with information. The initiative received a huge response, and we took action against several criminals based on this information," Lanka said.
The forest officer conducted several awareness campaigns among locals on the illegal trade of pangolins. Lanka said many locals were not aware that pangolins exist in the vicinity, but awareness about the mammal and strict action taken by the administration helped change the people's mindset.
The ant-eating animal is the most trafficked mammal in the world, putting it on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species. While all eight pangolin species are protected under international laws, smuggling pangolin scales and meat remains highly lucrative and efforts to crack down on the trade have had limited success. The keratin rich scales of pangolins are believed to have a host of positive benefits such as aiding breastfeeding and curing asthma or cancer but none of which is supported by science.
"I'm glad my work was noticed. But it will only stop once the pangolin is saved from extinction," Lanka added.