Sasmita Lenka, who is a divisional forest officer in Athgarh, Cuttack, received the United Nation's Asia Environmental Enforcement Award, under the 'Gender Leadership and Impact' category for her work in help in busting pangolin smuggling rackets in the state.
"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...I'm glad my work was noticed. But it'll only stop once the pangolin is saved from extinction," Sasmita, who is now posted as deputy conservator of forest in the Bhubaneswar district headquarters, said.
She also said that she offered a reward of ₹ 10,000 for information about suspects to bust the racket. Lenka added, "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."
In May last year, a female pangolin was rescued from a COVID-19 quarantine center in Odisha's Athagarh area by forest department officials. The pangolin was later tested for Coronavirus, and its swab sample was sent to a lab. Lenka had said, "As the pangolin was rescued from a quarantine center in the area, we have decided to send its swab for COVID-19 test. The test will be conducted with the help of the Centre for Wildlife Health (CWH) at OUAT Bhubaneswar."
Listed as endangered, using pangolins for commercial purposes is an unlawful act under the Wildlife Protection Act. Earlier, when the COVID-19 infection had started spreading in Wuhan, there were some reports which claimed pangolins to be hosts for the virus just like bats.
In October 2019, the UN had selected senior Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Ramesh Pandey for the acclaimed Asia Environmental Enforcement Award. The 1996-batch IFS officer, posted as Chief Conservator Forests in Lucknow and Secretary, UP State Bio-diversity Board, is known for his investigation and intelligence gathering on poachers. Ramesh Pandey received the award on November 13, at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok.
The purpose of the Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards is to publicly recognize outstanding achievements by public organizations and individuals in Asia to combat transboundary environmental crime.