SA on a Mission to Protect its Pangolins from Poachers
Pangolins, sometimes 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.
Pangolins Need Protection
Pangolins, the world’s only mammals with scales. Unique creatures, not well known and yet among the most poached and illegally trafficked animals in the world and nearing extinction because of high demand for their scales in Asian traditional medicine. Going for around 20,000 USD, many poaches ruthlessly hunt them for profit.
Professor Raymond Jansen, the chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group, describes the undergoing poaching and trading operations, “The majority of trade leaving Africa are dead pangolins in the form of loose scales in large sacks. But in southern Africa they are often brought to a willing buyer, someone perceived to be a wealthy individual where they ask large volumes of money for a living pangolin.
Local Pangoolin-Protection Initiatives
The African Pangolin Working Group in South Africa — a team of veterinarians and wildlife experts — have been rehabilitating pangolins rescued from poachers for nearly a decade.
Many pangolins arrive traumatised at a Johannesburg wildlife clinic.
Nicci Wright, the founder of the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, gives an inside look into the situation, “When we receive those pangolins, they’re all compromised. Whether they’ve been with the poachers for a couple of days or sometimes up to two weeks. So we see pangolins in a variety of different physical states. Some are very emaciated, they’re skeletal, they got wounds, they got injuries, they go snare wounds. It’s pitiful, very very difficult to emotionally deal with that kind of suffering and abuse.”
Hope is on the Horizon
The group has recorded 97 tons of pangolin scales seized last year from smugglers attempting to transport them out of Africa — which equates to roughly 150,000 illegally trafficked animals – a 20% estimate of the total figure as not all cases are known by authorities.
Nevertheless, steadily growing anti-poaching initiatives in South Africa work in collaboration with the police to identify and catch poachers and traders, who often in undercover operations — to protect the country’s pangolins.
Pangolins are known as the guardians of the forest because they protect forests from termite destruction, maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
These solitary, primarily nocturnal animals, are easily recognized by their full armor of scales. A startled pangolin will cover its head with its front legs, exposing its scales to any potential predator. If touched or grabbed it will roll up completely into a ball, while the sharp scales on the tail can be used to lash out.
Eight species of pangolins are found on two continents. They range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.
Four species live in Africa: Black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and Temminck’s Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii).
The four species found in Asia: Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).
All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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. Additionally, the government will no longer allow the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine, a big win given that an estimated 195,000 pangolins were trafficked in 2019 for their scales alone (Challender, et. al, 2020).