Friday, Sep 30, 2022
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Insect Thieves

Scientists and traders are plundering our forests for rare insects that can be smuggled

Insect Thieves Insect Thieves

Prize Catch

  • The Eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats are prime hunting grounds for smugglers of rare Indian butterflies and beetles
  • They're in demand internationally for private collections, butterfly parks, traditional medicine, and also to be encased into jewellery
  • Among the sought-after species are: Pale Jezebel, Banded Apollo and Kaiser-I-Hind butterflies; Rhinoceros, Long-horned and Jewel beetles

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Glass jars, headlights and nets aren't the kind of fearsome gear you'd associate with wildlife hunters. But it wasn't big game that Czech duo Emil Kucera and Petr Svacha were after when forest officials apprehended them in north Bengal's protected Singhalila National Park on June 22, a crime for which they're still awaiting trial in Darjeeling. Their prey was lightweight and fragile: rare butterflies, delicate moths, and gleaming beetles.

The case, which will be tried on August 25, brings to light the large-scale smuggling of rare insects and butterflies that takes place in India—a rampant trade that's increased in recent years, after managing to slip away from the wildlife authorities' radar for two decades. Over the past few years alone, French and Russian nationals have been caught in Sikkim with butterflies and beetles, Czech nationals in Leh with butterflies and Japanese in north Bengal with beetles. But many, many more get away scot free.

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