Not enough done to protect pangolins
[The Namibian – 18 June 2010]

The pangolin (Manis temminckii) is a protected species in Namibia and is increasingly vulnerable to threats posed by traditional and modern life.

A recent report published in two of the daily newspapers described a pangolin that had died of possible starvation in the hands of a senior civil servant. This was not only recent case concerning pangolins.

Near Tsumeb a pangolin offered for sale resulted in the Police's Protected Resource Unit arresting the potential seller. Where that particular pangolin was released, what scientific data was collected and whether or not the seller will be fined at the current maximum of N$300 are all unknowns.

In Namibia there is no well-coordinated approach and no central data bank for events concerning these protected and endangered animals and other wildlife events. Pangolins are found throughout the tropical and grassland regions of Africa and Asia. Of the four African pangolin species only one is found in Namibia and this species survives on ants and termites.

Their defence mechanism, rolling into a tight ball and snapping their razor-sharp scales to a tight position if they are touched, leaves them as easy prey animals to collect for bush-meat or medicine. The extent of the demand for pangolins in Namibia is an unknown.

However on mainland China the demand for pangolin meat, considered a delicacy, and its scales, used for promoting blood circulation, has increased in proportion to their human population. TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade-monitoring network, reports that 6 500 kg of pangolin meat was seized in South-east Asia from 2007 to 2009. In a separate incident in 2008, 38 tonnes of whole frozen pangolins were seized and this consignment included African pangolins.

Even though a law prohibiting any trade of pangolins in Asia has been in existence since 2002, illegal activities continue. All Asian pangolin species are today severely endangered by illegal trade to mainland China.

In Africa there are four species of pangolin but only one occurs in Namibia. Little, or perhaps more accurately, nothing is known about the extent, size or safety of its population. What is known is that there is an ongoing attempt at illegal trade and continual demand for scales to be used by traditional healers.

In captivity the Namibian species is close to impossible to feed, as they will not adjust to an unnatural diet.

Over the past two decades NARREC (Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research and Education Centre) has received about 40 pangolins. In each case these animals had been confiscated from very badly managed environments. Some confiscated animals have had their scales chipped for use by healers.

Sometimes the animals will have simply been tied inside a sack for days or weeks. Assessing the strength and body condition of these confiscated animals is necessary before release.

The release site must also be very well considered, as the compromised animals need both safety as well as immediate, sufficient, accessible natural food. Pangolins are affected by threats that specifically target them and by activities that affect them as non-targeted victims.

Although it has been reported that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism may sell the skins of dead pangolins on auction, this may further undermine protection of this endangered species. This situation may be exacerbated by current weak legislation and problematic law enforcement on the illegal capture, holding and trade of these (and other) wildlife.

Liz Komen