World unites to save pangolin

2016-10-02 06:02


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After months of vociferous lobbying, conservationists succeeded in eliciting the support of 19 countries to totally ban all trade, except for scientific research, of the endangered pangolin – an animal that has earned the unfortunate label of “the most trafficked mammal” in the world.

Unlike the high-profile marketing drives undertaken on behalf of elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards and lions, pangolins remained under the radar of mainstream conservation campaigns.

In the extensive agenda of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Johannesburg, the pangolin was finally upgraded on Thursday on the list of endangered species.

Although the local market for pangolin still revolves principally around traditional healing, followed by a much smaller trade in bush meat, South African pangolins are being caught and trafficked by middlemen who regard them as a lucrative commodity.

According to the Limpopo-based antipoaching unit Protrack, since the beginning of this year, there were seven arrests in Limpopo, where the Cape ground pangolin – a species indigenous to southern and South Africa – is most commonly found.

Some of the arrests involved foreign nationals allegedly colluding with South Africans who were aware of the pangolin’s value as a lucrative commodity in the transnational trade.

Rynette Coetzee, the biodiversity officer at the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development, says: “Although we have no idea how many pangolins are left in South Africa, if one does a risk assessment, it is necessary to err on the side of caution. This is because huge numbers of scales are leaving South Africa and the continent, which makes the survival of the species unsustainable.”

For example, in July, Hong Kong customs officers seized more than 4 000kg of pangolin scales, which were hidden in a container labelled “sliced plastics” from Cameroon. This represents up to 6 000 pangolins – the largest seizure of pangolin scales in five years.

Although a decision on the fate of the pangolin was only expected on Wednesday – the last day of the conference – the unanimous vote means that the up-listing of all eight species was implemented immediately. Of the eight species, four are from Asia and four are from Africa.

The global wildlife conference got under way in Johannesburg on September 24. At least 181 countries are participating, with 1 155 voting delegates.

Ray Jansen, chairperson of the African Pangolin Working Group, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2011 to research, raise awareness and lobby for greater protection of the species, says: “It is essential to embrace our endangered species as a country, continent and as the world; to speak as one, united voice.

“Pangolins are now untouchable, and trade is a no-no. This requires removing demand and increasing stiff penalties for all wildlife crimes in general, and pangolin trafficking in particular,” Jansen says.

Although statistics on numbers of both African and Asian pangolins are unclear, conservationists and scientists have pointed out that, based on seizures of pangolin scales and meat transported from Africa to Asia, more than 1 million pangolins are estimated to have been poached in the past decade. The rate at which they are being slaughtered for scales and meat is unsustainable.

Indeed, pangolin body parts have been used for centuries in both traditional Asian and African medicine. But it is evident that in Asia, especially China and Vietnam, pangolin scales are now being exploited for everything from fashion items to status symbols and the species is being eaten to extinction.

This article was supplied by Conservation Action Trust.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  animals  |  poaching

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