Megan Berman, of AWF, reports on the efforts to save the species
The world’s most trafficked mammal is not the charismatic elephant, majestic rhino or even an exotic monkey. It is a species that many people have never heard of — the pangolin.
Pangolins, the world’s only genuinely scaly mammal, are nocturnal, shy creatures that reside in Africa and Asia. There are four African species, all of which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies as “vulnerable” in its Red List of Threatened Species.
A study released in 2017 showed that between 400,000 and 2.7 million pangolins are hunted annually in Central Africa. [The staggering numbers did not even include Africa’s most common pangolin species, the Cape or Ground pangolin (S. temminckii), also heavily hunted, but found in southern and eastern Africa, which is not where the study focused.]
The research found that more than half of the pangolins caught were captured in snares; in addition, almost half were juveniles or subadult, meaning they had not reproduced, revealing the trade to be especially unsustainable.
Pangolins are killed for food, superstitious customs and traditional medicine. The scales have no medicinal value but some people, including consumers in Asia, persist in believing they have healing powers. Scales are in fact made of keratin, the same substance found in human hair and nails.
Despite an international ban that prohibits virtually all commercial trade in pangolin products, traffickers continue to move the contraband. Without reliable and effective interventions, pangolins are on a trajectory toward extinction.
Increased law enforcement is required at all points of the illegal trade to help save the pangolin. Furthermore, governments must disrupt the demand by dispelling the myth that pangolin scales contain healing properties.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) works to counter pangolin poaching through awareness efforts as well as community-based programs in Africa designed to sensitise people to the long-term costs of poaching. It also helps create sustainable livelihoods as alternatives to bushmeat hunting and poaching. In addition, it places highly trained sniffer dog units at transportation hubs and border areas to help deter poaching.