Shy pangolins need world spotlight to survive

2016-09-25 22:16
A pangolin curls into a ball before being released it into the wild Indonesia. (Jefri Tarigan, AP/File)

A pangolin curls into a ball before being released it into the wild Indonesia. (Jefri Tarigan, AP/File)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Johannesburg - Reclusive, gentle and quick to roll up into a ball, pangolins keep a low profile.

But they are also the world's most heavily trafficked mammal, and experts at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference this week are ringing alarm bells over their survival.

Demand for pangolin meat and body parts has fuelled a bloodbath, and driven the scale-covered, ant-eating mammal towards extinction.

More than a million pangolins are believed to have been poached from the wild in the past decade.

Most are used to supply demand in China and Vietnam, where they are highly regarded as a delicacy and an ingredient in traditional medicine.

At the CITES meeting in Johannesburg, conservationists will discuss moving pangolins into the highest protection category, which bans all international trade.

"The pangolin today is regarded as the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world," CITES chief John Scanlon told AFP.

"There has been a massive surge in the illegal take of the pangolin for its meat and for its scales."

Currently CITES allows for trade in pangolins, but under strict conditions.

"Existing laws are clearly failing to protect pangolins from the poachers. A complete international trade ban is needed now," said Heather Sohl, WWF-UK's wildlife advisor.

There are four species of pangolin in Africa and four in Asia.

Watchdogs say those in Asia are being eaten to extinction, while populations in Africa are declining fast.

Research published in the early 2000s estimated populations in China to have declined by up to 94%, said Dan Challender, pangolin expert at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Chinese traditional medicine 

Pangolins are covered in overlapping scales, and have pink, sticky tongues almost as long as their bodies.

When physically threatened, they curl into ball, making it easy for them to be picked up by hunters and put into a sack.

About the size of a small dog, they are solitary, mostly nocturnal and cannot be farmed.

"Pangolins are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity - they only feed on wild ants and termites, and they are extremely prone to stress and dehydration, so they die," Ray Jansen, of the African Pangolin Working Group, told AFP.

In Chinese traditional medicine, pangolin scales are ground into a powder believed to cure conditions from headaches and menstrual cramps to nose bleeding and lack of virility.

The scales are sometimes even used as guitar plectrums.

In traditional African culture, some people believe in keeping a scale in their pockets to ward off evil.

Zimbabweans used to present the mammals to President Robert Mugabe during his early years in office, but the practice has been discontinued.

"In Shona and Zulu culture, a pangolin is regarded as the greatest gift you can bestow on a chief, statesman or an elder," said Jansen.

Pangolin fat, blood and bones are also highly valued in African traditional medicine.

According to Jansen, in South Africa a pangolin can sell for anything between R10 000 ($730) to R80 000 ($5 800) depending on the client.

India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Nigeria, Senegal and the United States are co-sponsoring the proposal to impose a total ban on pangolin trade.

The CITES treaty, signed by 182 countries and the European Union, protects about 5 600 animal and 30 000 plant species from over-exploitation through commercial trade.

The 12-day conference started on Saturday and will sift through 62 proposals to tighten or loosen trade restrictions on about 500 species.

Read more on:    cites  |  johannesburg  |  conservation  |  animals  |  poaching

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.