The most-illegally-traded mammal in the world was recently awarded more protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
All eight pangolin species – including Temminck’s ground pangolin which is found in South Africa – were up-listed from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I at the 17th Congress of the Parties held in Johannesburg in September 2016. This listing prohibits any international trade in pangolins or their parts.
“The up-listing brings greater attention and focus to the species,” says Andrew Taylor, Senior Programme Officer at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. This may open up greater opportunities for research funding and it makes it easier for governments to apply stricter regulations on any activities involving pangolins, says Taylor.
Temminck’s ground pangolin is currently listed as “vulnerable” according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Pangolins have become threatened in the past decade due to demand for their meat and scales for consumption, medicinal purposes and superstitious value, both locally and in Europe and Asia. Locally, pangolins are also vulnerable to electrocution by electric fencing.
Numbers of current populations are difficult to measure, due to their solitary, secretive and nocturnal behaviour. But they have been seen in many of South Africa’s National Parks. “Kruger, Marakele, Mapungubwe and Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Parks have all recorded sightings for Temminck’s ground pangolin,” says Danny Govender, disease ecologist and veterinarian for SANParks.
Between 2013 and 2016, 26,900 pangolins were traded in Africa alone, says Darren Pietersen of the African Pangolin Working Group. “Locally, pangolin parts are used for traditional medicine. But the main destination for trade in pangolins is Asia and Europe,” says Pietersen.
These elusive mammals are especially vulnerable to poaching due to their slow reproductive rates. “They are very susceptible to overexploitation and slow recovery,” says Govender. “They are also easy prey to poachers due to their defence strategy of curling up in a ball – which doesn’t protect them from humans.”
Whether up-listing to Appendix 1 will help the fight against pangolin poaching in the long-term remains to be seen.
“The poaching syndicates for pangolin have been linked to organised criminal networks, similar to that of rhino horn and elephant ivory,” says Govender. “We would be remiss to think that a trade ban alone will stop poaching completely.”
In South Africa, pangolins hold the same protection as rhino and elephant, and any illegal activity surrounding pangolins can result in 10 years in jail or a R10 million fine.
“The decision to list pangolins on Appendix 1 shows that the international community regulating trade in wild species recognises the critical state of pangolin populations globally and is offering them the highest level of protection,” says Govender. “It’s also a call to action on the ground to protect this very vulnerable species from extinction at the hands of humans.”
Written by Taryn Arnott van Jaarsveld– SANParks Times Editor
Pictures: African Pangolin Working Group
Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za
READ MORE: 10 Facts about the Pangolin