Pangolin conservation group joins call to ban wildlife trade

MINDING ITS OWN BUSINESS: A pangolin hunting for ants. The scaly little animal is a key species in the massive illegal wildlife trade industry. It has populations in Africa and Asia
MINDING ITS OWN BUSINESS: A pangolin hunting for ants. The scaly little animal is a key species in the massive illegal wildlife trade industry. It has populations in Africa and Asia
Image: Johan Vermeulen

Conservation non-profit organisation Pangolin. Africa has endorsed the call by a range of international environmental groups to ban commercial trade in wildlife — with the exception of the game farm venison business.

The organisation said on Friday the wildlife trafficking industry was at the root of the Covid-19 outbreak and stamping it out would help prevent another viral disaster.

The little scaly ant-eating pangolin, a key victim of global illegal wildlife trade, has been at the centre of reports on the origin of the coronavirus in a wild food market in Wuhan, China, in December. Reports have indicated the species, which has populations in Africa and Asia, could have been the intermediate host that transferred the virus to a human from a horseshoe bat.

Pangolin. Africa spokesperson Catherine Ritchie said the organisation fully supported the trade ban call issued by the #EndTheTrade Coalition and the campaign launched this week by coalition members Global Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society and WildAid.

“The coalition aims to permanently end the commercial trade and sale in markets of wild terrestrial animals for consumption, worldwide.

“It will be implementing a joint strategy focused on reducing consumer demand, closing commercial supply chains and actively monitoring for pathogens through increased health surveillance.

“The strategy is being actively supported by a global movement which is calling on the governments of the world to end wildlife trade.”

Pangolin. Africa director Toby Jermyn said his organisation was dedicated to ensuring the survival of the pangolin.

“We, therefore, welcome this initiative.

“There has never been a more relevant time for humankind to take action for the protection of our wildlife and for our future.

“The wildlife trade has driven many species to extinction and is now also responsible for bringing the planet to its knees. Only through taking a united, global stand against these inhumane practices can we ensure that a pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 is never allowed to happen again.”

Asked about the commercial wildlife trade ban call and how that would apply to the Eastern Cape venison trade, for instance, seen by many environmentalists as a good way to encourage farmers to retain natural habitat and not transform to pasture, Pangolin. Africa conservation projects manager Helena Atkinson said this aspect had been specifically excluded.

“We strongly oppose the commercialisation of wildlife products especially when alternative livelihood sources are available and where wildlife products are used for medicinal purposes, and especially in cases where there is no scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.

“But this is different from venison from game farms, and this industry is excluded from the #EndTheTrade petition that is now circulating.”

American epidemiologist Dr Peter Daszak a leading role-player in pinpointing the link between Covid-19, deforestation and illegal wildlife trade, argued in an Earth Day webinar this week that banning wildlife trade altogether would push it underground and make it harder to police.

Asked about this point, Atkinson said it was a legitimate concern.

“But we do believe that by making it illegal there will be more power to prosecute people who take part in the illegal trade. Having a part of a trade legal and another part not legal makes it harder for law enforcement to control.”

WildAid estimates that 100,000 pangolins are taken from the wild each year in Africa and Asia.

Scales from more than a million pangolins have been traded globally in the past decade, with seizures by law enforcement surging from 21kg in 2011 to more than 68,000kg in 2019.

According to an October 2019 report by Richard Chelin of Enact, a UN-funded organisation that fights organised crime, the huge demand for pangolin scales and meat, largely from Southeast Asia, has created a lucrative illicit market run by transnational criminal syndicates.

“Criminal networks seek to use SA as a hub to export pangolin scales obtained from other parts of Africa to Asia.”

Chelin said that in Asia the pangolin was a valuable commodity.

“Its flesh is consumed as a delicacy and a symbol of luxury and wealth. Its blood and scales — crushed in powder form — are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are believed to cure conditions such as asthma, rheumatism, skin disorders, cancer and cerebral palsy, and to promote blood circulation.

“The animals’ foetuses are also consumed in the belief that they enhance virility, and the skin of the pangolin is processed into leather products such as bags and wallets.”

He said that of the eight species of pangolin found globally, four were found in Asia and four in Africa.

“In terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, the southeast Asian Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin are critically endangered, while the Indian and Philippine pangolins are endangered.

“The African species are listed as vulnerable and the great likelihood is that they will become endangered if the current trade trend continues,” Chelin said.

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