India: It's a jungle out there. Authorities in Mumbai have seized a whopping 33,000 kg of a "protected" Himalayan herb that was being smuggled into the country via sea route from China. Officials of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), western region, identified the plant as the rare "Saussurea costus", or "kuth", which grows only at high altitudes of 8,000-12,000 feet in very cold climate.
It is used variously as an aphrodisiac, in perfumes, incense sticks, ayurvedic oils and for curing asthma, arthritis, inflammation, etc. Authorities estimated the three seized consignments to be worth a few crores at least. M Maranko, regional deputy director of WCCB in Navi Mumbai, said, "The first such parcel was received at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Raigarh in March. The second came in April and the third in June. Together, they weighed 33 metric tonnes."
They were allegedly imported from China by shopkeepers in Delhi's Khari Baoli spice market and a drug house in Amritsar in the name of Pushkarmoola, a non-protected herb. "When the Customs alerted us, we went and checked it and found it to smell and feel like Saussurea costus instead. We sent it to the Central National Herbarium in Howrah, West Bengal, and later National Botanical Research Institute in Lucknow, for testing and they confirmed our suspicions that it is kuth," Maranko said.
With its natural habitat - spread across Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, parts of Pakistan and China - constantly shrinking and its wild population almost gone, the Indian government has declared it a threatened plant variety.
Kuth is now included in the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, Schedule VI, which covers only six plants in all, such as the pitcher plant and lady's slipper orchid found in the Northeast. It means these plants can be cultivated, harvested or sold only under a licence from the chief wildlife warden (CWW) of the respective State.
Also, the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has declared it a "critically endangered" plant. So, any import or export in the plant around the world will take place only with a CITES certificate.
Tilottama Verma, chief of the WCCB, which functions under the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, said, "As kuth is now cultivated in a very small area in Himachal, but its demand in ayurveda, the Chinese and Tibetan systems of medicine, is increasing, it is being trafficked across countries. We definitely need more experts in this field to give optimum protection to such vanishing variety of flora."
(Source: India Today)