Protecting Pangolins

Protecting Pangolins

17 August, 2015
Unknown & Endangered
The solitary, nocturnal anteater is the world's most trafficked mammal
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On Saturday, Humane Society International (HSI) launched a #ProtectOurPangolins awareness campaign in the bustling streets of Mong Kok to raise much-needed public awareness and publicity about the plight of this charismatic, solitary creature.
 
Pangolins are the most commonly trafficked wild mammal in the world, with at least one million individuals traded over the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Pangolin Specialist Group. Sought after in Asia for both its meat and scales, and producing just one offspring a year, the extinction threat to this enigmatic species is clear. Despite this, pangolins receive relatively little attention in the public spotlight compared to iconic megafauna facing similar poaching threats, such as elephants or rhinos.
 
Hong Kong is a major transit port for pangolin smuggling from Southeast Asia and Africa – with 5 tonnes of scales seized in the past 18 months. When considered in relation to a pangolin's average body mass, which ranges from 2-30kg, the true 'scale' of this crisis is undeniable. And the sad fact is these are but a few of the mass seizures made regularly throughout Southeast Asia. Recently in Indonesia, 5 tonnes of frozen pangolin carcasses were seized. This indicates that market demand for pangolins remains high, and Hong Kong is no exception.
 
A recent and ongoing investigation by HSI has revealed that pangolin scales are sold illegally in traditional Chinese medicine shops in Hong Kong, and a public opinion survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that:

  • 85% of HK people think pangolin scales have medicinal value. 
  • Reasons listed for consuming pangolin scales included treatment of rheumatism, soreness, itchiness, cancer, eczema, diabetes and impotence. 
  • 27% of those surveyed do not know if it is legal to consume pangolin meat, or think it is legal (it is illegal). 
  • Nearly half of HK people are confused about the legality of pangolin scale consumption: 33% did not know if it is illegal, 16% believe it is legal.

 
Iris Ho, Program Manager, Wildlife, HSI, said: “Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails and hair. If one would not eat his or her finger nails to cure an illness, why resort to pangolin scales?"
 
"Like the pink dolphins that are native to Hong Kong’s waters and receive broad support, pangolins are native to Hong Kong and provide its government and the public a unique opportunity to strengthen Hong Kong’s biodiversity and the enforcement of wildlife trafficking," she added.
 
"Without awareness and public pressure, the current, unsustainable levels of pangolin trade will cause the species to be wiped from the planet before most people even knew it existed,” she concluded.
 
Part of the problem for pangolins is also that they enjoy few international safeguards. There are 8 pangolin species: 4 in Asia, 4 in Africa. Of the 4 Asian pangolin species, two are listed as critically endangered (the highest level) by the IUCN – the Chinese Pangolin (found in Hong Kong and China) and the Sunda Pangolin (found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, among others). All 8 pangolin species are listed on Appendix II of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which established a zero annual export quota for Asian pangolins. This discrepancy between the Asian and African pangolins creates a loophole enabling the vast amount of illegal smuggling of pangolin scales and meat that we experience today.
 
The groups urge people to sign a petition to have all 8 pangolin species upgraded to an Appendix I classification at the next CITES meeting of the Conference of Parties in Johannesburg next year. Please sign, like the campaign facebook group, spread the word and help #ProtectOurPangolins
 
To learn more about pangolins, tune in to the 2-part bilingual radio interview (available online) with a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner debunking the belief that pangolin scales have medicinal qualities, and an interview with a member of the IUCN pangolin specialist group. 
 

By: Ecozine Staff
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