By Mathew Dadiya
Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are mammals of the order Pholidota. The one extant family, Manidae, has three genera: Manis, Phataginus and Smutsia. Manis comprises the four species found in Asia, while Phataginus and Smutsia include two species each, all found in Sub-Saharan Africa – mostly in Nigeria.
Though many people think of them as reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals.
They are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales and use those scales to protect themselves from predators in the wild. If under threat, a pangolin will immediately curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves.
The Pangolins are very special to human existence because they keep ants and termites population in checks
Pangolins eat ants, termites and larvae and are often known as “the scaly anteater.” Because they have no teeth, they pick up food with their sticky tongues, which can sometimes reach lengths greater than the animal’s body.
According to a research, the ants population is in hundreds of trillions and one trillion ants are to one human being. Imagine what the world could be like if this ants population is not contained by Pangolins.
Despite that, individual families and corporate organizations still spend good sums of money on insecticide just to keep these ants away from our abodes.
Perhaps, Pangolins are certainly one of the most trafficked mammals in Africa. This is due to the high demand for Pangolins in countries like China and Vietnam. Their meat is considered a delicacy and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws. But there is still growing international illegal trade in pangolins especially in Nigeria.
Pangolins have for decades been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and other African countries. But strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in the country, making Nigeria a trafficking hub.
The increasing rates of seizures of illegal pangolins in Asia call for serious concern. A report into global trafficking of pangolins published in 2015 by TRAFFIC, an international NGO that researches and analyzes the trade in wild animals and plants, said at least 120 tonnes of pangolin parts and scales were seized by authorities worldwide between 2010 and 2015.
In early 2019,, more than 25 tonnes of pangolin scales and 2.5 tonnes of ivory have been seized by customs officials in Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore in shipments originating from Lagos, Nigeria, and another 13 tonnes of pangolin scales containers were seized by the Nigerian Customs.
Also in April, 2019, Singapore Customs and the National Parks Board seized 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales, worth an estimated $38.7 million.
Worst of all, the Nigerians pangolins hunters and traders are ripped off – the Chinese pangolins traffickers buy them at a very cheap price sometimes less than $7 per one and sell at over $1000. They are also draining the the GDP of Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan countries where billions of pangolins are trafficked to Asia and sold at a very high high price.
A conservationist, Stephen Aina, said in Nigeria, pangolins are more prevalent in the Middle-Belt and South-West part of the country because of high concentration of ants and termites which are main food for pangolins.
Aina said, ”We have confirmed a high number of pangolin presence in Middle-Belt states like Kogi, Kwara, Benue, Niger and Taraba, where Nigeria’s largest national park Gashaka-Gumti is situated.”
He appealed to the Nigerian authority to take a drastic action against illegal trade in Pangolins, saying that Pangolins are vital to the sustenance of the nation’s ecosystem.
Tracy Richards, International Communications Officer, World Sustainable Organisation (WSO) said that the organization through its sister agencies – FriendoftheEarth and FriendoftheSea has been working closely with countries globally to end the illegal trade in Pangolins with its ”Save the Pangolin Project” and other wildlife in Nigeria.
Ms Richards said that 80 percent of trafficked Pangolins are shipped from Nigeria.
She urged African countries to place heavy fine or imprisonment for anyone who hunts, poaches, or trades in Pangolin.
She noted that Africa is considered as an unexplored continent with vast biodiversity but today the continent is threatened by the activities of fishermen and wild animals poachers.
According to reports on Pangolins seizures, an estimated 116,990,233,980 pangolins were killed between 2011 and 2013, which represents only the tip of the trade.
In spite of these alarming reports, experts believe that seizures represent as little as 10 percent of the actual volume in pangolins in illegal wildlife trade.
In order to address this illegal trade on this endangered mammals that are facing extinction, there is urgent need for the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Environment, to send a bill to the National Assembly to enact or review the existing law on the protection of wildlife with a stiffer penalty for Pangolins traders.
The government should also revisit the 2016 treaty where over 180 governments announced an agreement that would end all legal trade of pangolins and further protect the species from extinction.
In June 2020, China increased protection for the native Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) to the highest level, which closed an important loophole for consumption of the species in-country.
The Chinese government also said it will no longer allow the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine, given that an estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 to China for their scales alone.
Now is the time for Nigeria and other African countries to act and ensure that the right legislation is enacted to safeguard endangered wildlife species and protect their economy from being milked away by illegal traders in wildlife.
Africa must get value for its natural endowment, there should be no room for poachers. African wildlife matters!
Written by Mathew Dadiya with support from Friend of the Earth