bnanews.bna : Illicit Trafficking Decimates Pangolins in Central Africa



Illegal trafficking of pangolins to China and other Asian countries is making them highly endangered as central African countries try to extend protections for the reclusive ant-eating mammals.



Pangolins are burrowing animals with overlapping scales; conical heads; and long, sticky tongues that enable them to eat mostly ants and termites. Nocturnal and secretive, they have been difficult for scientists to study in the wild. They’ve also become the most trafficked wild mammals in the world, according to the Zoological Society of London.



The illegal trade is driven mainly by high demand for pangolin scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine and as ornaments. The skin is traded to produce leather products.



Pangolins also have been hunted as food: The meat is considered a delicacy in several central African countries, including Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.

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All eight species of pangolin, found in Asia and Africa, are classified as threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.



More than 1 million pangolins were traded illegally between 2000 and 2016, primarily to China, making them the most trafficked wild mammal in the world, according to the IUCN, which banned international trade in pangolins in 2016.



Smuggling is becoming more sophisticated over remote routes from the Congo Basin and largely on to Asia, Katharine Abernethy, an ecologist at the University of Stirling in Scotland and team leader at the university’s African Forest Ecology Group, told Bloomberg Environment.



In the past, local hunters were employed by traders in African tropical forests, but now there is evidence that criminal export networks are turning to specialized hunters and equipping them so that they can get to remote places, away from law enforcement, Abernethy said.



“This seems to be what is happening now in most countries in Central Africa where pangolin poaching is very high,” said Abernethy, a co-author of a recent study in the African Journal of Ecology on commercial trade in pangolins in Gabon.



According to Aurelie Flore Koumba Pambo, head of science for the Gabon’s National Agency for National Parks, countries in central Africa are aware that illegal trade in endangered species is major catalyst to erosion of biodiversity and a threat to environmental integrity.



“It also undermines good governance and reduces revenue from sustainable economic utilization of wildlife-based tourism,” Pambo told Bloomberg Environment.



In Gabon, pangolins are protected by law and Crystal Mountains National Park in north Gabon has changed its emblem to a giant pangolin to create more awareness and reduce hunting.



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