CHENNAI: In India’s smuggling circles, a peculiar commodity whose demand and supply are on the rise is ambergris, also known as whale vomit. As bizarre as it may seem, this commodity is a highly sought-after ingredient in many lucrative businesses, with one kilogram reportedly costing `1 crore.
A Forest Department official said that as there is no proper awareness among the fishermen and the public, smuggling is slowly on the rise. Only recently, camps have been set up to educate people on this issue. He said, “When fishermen find ambergris in their net, they do not know what to do with it. But there are middlemen, who keep an eye on these fishermen and buy the ambergris from them at a cheap price and sell to the party concerned at an exorbitant price.” There should be stringent rules and punishments to dissuade people from smuggling ambergris, he pointed out.
The forest officer said the majority of the consignment is sent to Sri Lanka from where it is redirected to other countries such as Indonesia and France.A senior forest said, “Since the science behind ambergris is not clear, it cannot be legalised in India. Also, if it is legalised, the animal’s life will be at risk as people will start hunting it.” Since sperm whales are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, India prohibits their use.
About steps to curb smuggling, he said that there should be an integrated safety mechanism on three fronts — Fisheries, Forest, and Customs Departments. If the illegal consignment escapes from one department, the other department can seize it. Also, there should be a database containing details about the operations and details of the accused. Then, it would become easy to trace the groups.