The prehistoric looking pangolin is under threat. This bizarre looking species is the most hunted animal in the world, and constitutes up to 20% of the entire wildlife black market, something which campaigners and conservationists alike have struck upon in recent years launching several attempts to bring the species desperate plight to our attention. In part it worked, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with pangolin’s for a while (although my Facebook is filled with animal lovers so maybe not surprising!). However despite a larger global awareness, trade in pangolin’s is rife.
TRAFFIC have co-authored a study published in Global Ecology and Conservation which has revealed the extent of the trade in Myanmar. Despite the threat of imprisonment of up to seven years and/or a hefty fine for killing possessing, selling or transporting pangolin’s under Myanmar law, visits to the Mong La’s morning market, wildlife trophy shops and wild meat restaurants by the paper’s authors revealed many items openly for sale. During four visits between 2006 and 2015 the authors surveyed and found 42 bags of scales, 32 whole skins, 16 foetuses or pangolin parts in wine, and 27 whole pangolin’s openly for sale. Not only does this show that trade is happening on a large scale but the openness suggests that there is little fear of repercussions.
As you can probably imagine, a high volume of trade in any species can have serious impacts upon their long-term survival prospects and for pangolin’s the situation is no different. Currently the four Asian species of pangolin are at greatest risk of extinction as a direct result of the illegal wildlife trade, however it appears African species may now also be at serious risk.
The cause of this overexploitation is an increase in demand. Whilst the scales are used in traditional Asian medicine, the meat is a luxury item and the rise in wealth throughout Chinese and Vietnam has seen a surge in popularity for luxuries such as pangolin meat.
Without doubt the biggest threat to the pangolin is this high demand. The study claims that the volume of pangolin parts witnessed in their visits has dramatically risen since they started in 2005. However the biggest concern is that the wild meat restaurants and casinos would need a huge, probably daily supply of pangolin meat/parts to supply their demands.
Meanwhile the study also highlights the importance of Myanmar as a trade route for illegal wildlife entering China. Although China is taking steps to tackle smuggling, preventing this cross-border trade will provide a key weapon in the conservation of the pangolin and help to choke the illegal trade of the pangolin.
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