SUBJECT :It was being smuggled from the Benapole-Petrapole border to western India 

The famished cub, along with three white-headed langurs that were also rescued from the same vehicle, is now in the Alipore Zoo hospital

Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, June 3, 2019: A three-month-old lion cub trapped inside a nylon bag was rescued from a vehicle on Belghoria Expressway early on Saturday while it was being smuggled from the Benapole-Petrapole border, via Calcutta to western India.

Three white headed langurs, which included two adults and one juvenile species, were also rescued from the Mahindra Scorpio in which the animals were being ferried.

Three men were arrested for smuggling the lion cub and langurs. They obtained bail from a Barrack pore court. Forest department officials said they would oppose the bail.

Officials involved with the rescue said the lion cub and the langurs were highly sedated. They were very weak and famished when they were rescued, said a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) official.

He said as the mouth of the nylon bag was stitched, it made movement and breathing extremely difficult for the lion cub. The state forest department’s Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU) and the centre’s WCCB jointly conducted the raid.

The rescued animals were taken to the Alipore Zoo’s hospital. “The cub ate chicken. The langurs also ate. We also made them drink oral rehydration solutions (ORS),” said an official.

Senior forest department officials failed to remember the last time they had rescued a lion cub being smuggled.

Officials admitted that raids were frequently conducted to stop the smuggling of protected and endangered animals that include various bird species. But smuggling of a lion cub was something that they hadn’t spotted at least in the recent past. Sources said that in November 2017 the authorities in Bangladesh had rescued a lion cub that was being smuggled.

Officials who conducted the raid said they could be mere transporters while the receivers are yet to be caught. The Mahindra Scorpio, in which the animals were being ferried, was chased and stopped near Dakshineswar’s Kendriya Vihar Housing Complex around 2am on Saturday.

“The Asiatic Lion is a schedule I protected animal under the Wildlife Protection Act. White headed langurs are not native to India; hence they are not protected under the Act. The langurs are found in a few of the Indonesian islands,” said an official. A case has been started for illegal possession of Asiatic lion against the accused trio, but officials didn’t rule the possibility of the cub being of African origin.

As its approximate age is around four months, it is difficult to identify the species accurately, said an official.

Possession, transportation or confinement of any animal protected under the act is a punishable offence. “The maximum punishment, if proven guilty, is seven years of imprisonment,” said the official.

The International Union for Classification of Nature (IUCN) has classified white headed langur as a ‘critically endangered’ species, while Asiatic lion is classified as ‘endangered’.

An official of the crime control bureau said while the juvenile langur had brown fur, the adults had black fur with white fur on the head.

Officials involved with the raid said that they had an intelligence input about a lion cub being smuggled through Bengal to some western state in India. “We were tracking the consignment for quite some time. Our aim was to nab the receivers too. But the arrested men are claiming that they are transporters,” said an official.

“We are verifying their claim,” he said.

A state forest department official said that the transporters had carried the animals in the boot of a sedan till Dhulagarh in Howrah and from there hired a Mahindra Scorpio. The arrested trio — Wasim Rahman, 29, Wajid Ali, 36, and Mohammad Gulam Gaus, 27 — are all residents of Belilious Road in Howrah.

When members of the joint raid team tried to wave down the Scorpio, the vehicle made a bid to flee. The team then chased the vehicle, overtook it and brought it to a halt.