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Good News for a Change: Nigerians Fight to Protect the Pangolin 🎥

So, what is a pangolin? Often thought to be reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals and the only mammal that is fully covered in scales. Those scales are needed to protect themselves from predators in the wild. If under threat, a pangolin will immediately curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves.

Sadly, this shy and harmless pangolin has an enemy it cannot withstand - humans! Meanwhile increasingly well known for one reason: it is believed to be the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal. Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year, killed for their scales for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for their meat, a delicacy among some “ultra-wealthy” people in China and Vietnam.

All species face declining populations because of illegal trade. In 2016, the 186 countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the treaty that regulates the international wildlife trade, voted to ban the commercial trade in pangolins.

Unfortunately the illegal trade is still booming. Although pangolin scales, like rhino horn, have no proven medicinal value, yet they are used in traditional Chinese medicine to help with ailments ranging from lactation difficulties to arthritis. The scales typically dried and ground up into powder, which may be turned into a pill.

Adult Philippine Pangolin with pup by Gregg Yan - Wikimedia Commons

For many years, the Asian species were the primary target of poachers and traffickers. But now that their numbers have been depleted, smugglers are increasingly turning to African pangolins. In two record-breaking seizures in the space of a week in April 2019, Singapore seized a 14.2-ton shipment and a 14-ton shipment of pangolin scales - from an estimated 72,000 pangolins - coming from Nigeria.

Pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammals in the world. As the four Asian species of pangolins have dwindled, poachers are increasingly turning to the African species to supply the trade. In this short film, meet the bold Nigerians who are fighting to protect this gentle and vulnerable creature.

🎥 (9:57) National Geographic - June 2019

“The more we hunt wildlife, the more we come in contact with new environments and the more we increase the likelihood of us being exposed to these viruses,” explained Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization’s International Food Safety Authorities Network. “It’s clear that poaching and hunting endangered species has to stop. It’s totally unacceptable. I think everybody in all authorities of the world are in agreement with that.”

Easier said than done! Hopefully the Covid-19 pandemic has finally made us recognise that the illegal wildlife trade poses an intolerable danger to public health. An increased effort to stop the illegal wildlife-trade worldwide is the only option to protect our health in the future. But given humans have short memories, once the danger has passed public concern will turn to the next big problem. Covid-19 clearly represents an exceptional opportunity to combat the wildlife trade, and ensure that animal-borne diseases do not mutate and cross over to humans. But only time will tell whether this opportunity will be taken or put off once again until the emergence of the next pandemic poses an even bigger global threat.



National Geographic, 2020 (viewed 20.04.2020)


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