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Save the African Pangolin

Long-tailed pangolin, Manis tetradactyla, Congo, DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Asian demands and local corruption drives up poaching: The uncertainty faced by the African pangolin

According to news reports, over 7,500 kilograms of pangolin scales have been seized in the last five years in Cameroon. The news has again brought to light the detrimental reach of international trafficking and poaching in Africa. Even more alarming, this month, was the seizure in Vietnam of 2,500 kg of pangolin scales in just one shipment from Nigeria, which the federal government has decided to investigate.

Traffic, a biodiversity conservation and sustainable development NGO focused on wildlife trade, alleges that more than 20,000 kg of pangolins and their parts, mostly from Africa, and are trafficked internationally every year. In Central Africa, it’s estimated 400,000 to three million pangolins are murdered every year. While there has been much global awareness and fuss around the hunting of rhinos and elephants for ivory, it is pangolins who are atop the global chart of mammals unsheltered to poaching.

The huge volume of scales trafficked and the high rate of poaching poses a serious danger to Africa’s pangolin population. Conservationists say even the least endangered species wouldn’t be able to brave this level of exploitation.

Seized endangered pangolin scales on display (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

There, four African pangolin species: Temminck’ ground, white-bellied, giant ground and black-bellied. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—to which Nigeria, Cameroon, and other African countries are a party—forbids the commercialization of the scaly mammal. Yet, trafficking in pangolins continues to flourish especially in hotspots of Nigeria (a trafficking hub) and Cameroon.

In the past, most people hunted pangolins in Africa as a local delicacy “bush meat” as it is known casually in Cameroon and Nigeria. But the pangolin scales were often thrown out. Then things changed in the early 2000s when an illegal global market for pangolins and their scales opened up. And in recent times, the poaching of African pangolins has become much more revolutionary with the involvement of Chinese and other Asian poachers.

As Asian pangolin species became scarce, poachers from Asia turned to Africa to make up for the shortage in order to supply international markets extending to the United States. China is the chief patron of pangolins, where wealthy Chinese enjoy savoring their meat in restaurants. The Chinese also believe pangolin scales have medicinal values which can cure many illnesses, including erectile dysfunction and different types of cancers.

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