Pangolins endangered by international trade
[The Namibian – 21 April 2011]

A CAPE pangolin picked up on the outskirts of Windhoek and handed to a Ministry of Environment and Tourism official, was passed to the Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research and Education Centre (Narrec). After basic assessment of the young animalís condition, staff at Narrec moved the pangolin to a safe release site. Before release a tracking device was attached to the pangolin, to allow scientists to follow the movements and success of this animal as well as to be able to add to the scant database of pangolin biology in Namibia.

Assessing the strength and body condition of these confiscated animals is necessary before release. The release site must be very well considered, as the compromised animals need safety as well as immediate and sufficient natural food and shelter. A dedicated research project under permit from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is essential for the future of the pangolin in Namibia.

Pangolins are found throughout tropical and grassland regions of Africa and Asia. Their name is derived from a Malay word meaning to roll up. Unfortunately, their defence mechanism of rolling into a tight ball and snapping their razor-sharp scales if they are touched, does not protect them from bush-meat and traditional medicine collectors. Of the four African pangolin species only one is found in Namibia. This species, the Cape pangolin, Manis temminckii, survives on ants and termites and although it is a protected species in Namibia it is increasingly vulnerable to direct and indirect threats posed by traditional and modern life.

TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network has reports of 6 500 kg of pangolin meat seized in South-east Asia from 2007 to 2009. Today, even though a law prohibiting any trade of pangolins in Asia has been in existence since 2002, all Asian pangolin species are severely endangered by the illegal trade to mainland China, and the demand for pangolins continues.

Little is known about the extent, size or safety of Namibiaís Cape pangolin population. Nor is the extent of the demand for pangolins in Namibia known. The differences found in one or other pangolin species mean little to those people who have found markets for these toothless creatures.

Since the Asian species have reached such low population numbers our African species are now not only in the market for local traditional and culinary purposes but also more and more on the list of foreign illegal trade.

Pangolins are easy prey for people and the number caught for the pot is unknown. The two most obvious non-target activities affecting pangolins are chemical insecticides and electric fences. Insecticides used in agriculture and for locust control are known to be a serious threat to pangolins. The bottom wire of an electric fence will also kill pangolins.

It was reported in the two local daily newspapers in 2009 that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism may sell the skins of dead pangolins on auction. These permits could further undermine protection of this vulnerable and threatened species if, as noted by the UN Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), when permits are issued for a specific trade in a species, illegal activities become problematic as permits are more easily illegally forged.

Liz Komen