The Plight of the Pangolin

What is a pangolin...? It’s quite a strange name for an animal, however what’s even stranger is the way it looks. It looks like a creature that stepped out of Jurassic Park movie. One could easily confuse it for some sort of reptile rather than a mammal species. There are eight species of pangolin found in the world, four in Asia and four in Africa. Their body is covered with scales and a long tail. Their diet consists mostly of ants and termites, while the habitat in which they live forest areas and woodland. An interesting fact about the pangolin is that when it feels threatened it will curl itself into a ball for protection.



The Pangolin is the most trafficked animal species in the world.

So why am I talking to you about pangolins this week… Well, these amazing little creatures are the most heavily trafficked mammal across the globe. Even more than ivory from elephants, Rhino horn, lions and tigers. Not that any of these are of less importance. Pangolins are hunted for their. Its various body parts, particularly their scales, but also its fetuses', blood, bones and claws are believed to have healing properties in Chinese Traditional Medicines (CTM). Their meat is thought of as a delicacy in restaurants, where its consumption is also a sign of status. Prices for pangolin scales in China have increased in the last decade, and the demand from China is believed to be driving much of the global trade. I don’t know about you but I believe that the Chinese people are a far more intelligent race, particularly in this day and age to be believing in these things. I’ve read that they also put pangolin fetuses' in their wine, what a waste of good wine.

Crunching the numbers

That being said lets crack on with some of the main stats.

· The total number of CITES recorded pangolins traded between 1977 and 2014 is huge, with an estimated 809,723 whole pangolins; which does not account for 18.72% of recorded incidents (including: 7239 cartons of other sources and skin pieces; 68 flasks of specimens; 568.19 kg of other sources, medicines, specimens, and unspecified shipments; and, 60,307 specimens, other sources include, garments, medicines, carvings and bone pieces with an unspecified unit).

· Myanmar authorities made five seizures in 2006 and 2007 (mostly in Mandalay) amounting to 233 skins and one live individual.

· From January 2008 to March 2016, 21,377 kg of scales and 23,109 individual pangolins were recorded in a total of 206 seizure reports, amounting to 65,849 individuals in sum.

· A pangolin gives birth to one pup with a gestation period of 150 days.



The pangolin mother will always carry her baby on her back.

What is being done about all this?

All species of pangolin are recorded in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), this means that all international trade is subject to the provisions provided by the Convention. Pangolins are a totally protected animal under Myanmar’s Protection of Wildlife and Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law of 1994. Killing, possessing, selling, transporting or transferring (including exporting) totally protected wildlife, or any part thereof, without permission, is seen as punishable with imprisonment for up to seven years and/or a fine of up to MMK 50,000 (USD 8183).

In China, pangolins (both native and non-native species) are listed as Class II Protected Wildlife Species under the Wildlife Protection Law. In 2008 the Chinese government issued a regulation pertaining to the sale of pangolin scales in stock: these scales need to be registered and marked individually, and can only be sold in accredited hospitals. Trading pangolins or their body parts is seen as a criminal offence in China: penalties depend on the seriousness of the offence and the value of the body parts. For instance one offender smuggling up to eight live pangolins or their body parts valued between RMB 100,000 and 200,000 (USD 16,250–32,500) shall be liable for imprisonment of not less than five years and at the same time have to pay a fine. Smuggling parts valued over RMB 200,000 is considered an ‘especially serious offence’ carrying a penalty of life imprisonment or death.



Seized pangolin scales.

Many wildlife organizations and projects have been set up around the world to help curb the onslaught of the pangolin problem. Some of these include WWF, WildAid, Pangolin Conservation organization and Save Pangolins organization. Unfortunately in the western world, we are not really exposed to pangolins and its trade because most of it is done on the black market. We can however play our part by when going on holiday to these places, by reporting any suspicious activity to the local law enforcement. Don’t buy any merchandise or products that consist of pangolin or any other wild animal that is on display in the market place.

References

Cheng, W., Xing, S. & Bonebrake, T.C. 2017. Recent Pangolin Seizures in China Reveal Priority Areas for Intervention. Conservation Letters, 10 (6):757–764.

Harrington, L.A., Cruze, N.D. & Macdonald, D.W. 2018. Rise to fame : events, media activity and public interest in pangolins and pangolin trade, 2005 – 2016. Nature Conservation, 133: 107–133.

Heinrich, S., Wittmann, T.A., Prowse, T.A.A., Ross, V., Delean, S., Shepherd, C.R. & Cassey, P. 2016. Where did all the pangolins go ? International CITES trade in pangolin species. Global Ecology and Conservation, 8: 241–253.

Ingram, D.J., Coad, L., Abernethy, K.A., Maisels, F., Stokes, E.J., Bobo, K.S., Breuer, T., Gandiwa, E., Ghiurghi, A., Greengrass, E., Holmern, T., Kamgaing, T.O.W., Obiang, A.N., Poulsen, J.R., Schleicher, J., Nielsen, M.R., Solly, H., Vath, C.L. Waltert, M. Whitham, C, E, L., Wilkie, D, S, & Scharlemann J, P, W. 2018. Assessing Africa-Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data. Conservation Letters, 11 (12): 1–9.

Nijman, V., Xia, M. & Shepherd, C.R. 2016. Global Ecology and Conservation, 5: 118–126.

S h e p h e r d C, R., Co n n e l l y, E., Hywood, L., & C a s s e y, P. 2018. Taking a stand against illegal wildlife trade: the Zimbabwean approach to pangolin conservation. Oryx, 51(2): 280–285.

Stuart, C., Stuart, M. 2015. Stuarts Field Guide to mammals of Southern Africa. Struik Nature, Cape Town, South Africa.

Zhang, M., Gouveia, A., Qin, T. Quan. & R. Nijman V. 2017. Illegal pangolin trade in northernmost Myanmar and its links to India and China. Global Ecology and Conservation, 10: 23–31.

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