New ban on pan­golin trade may help most traf­ficked mam­mal

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Kam­pala, Uganda

Be­cause of its dis­tinc­tive coat of hard shells, the pan­golin, or scaly anteater, has been called the world’s most heav­ily traf­ficked mam­mal. More than 1 mil­lion have been poached in the past decade, threat­en­ing the crea­ture with ex­tinc­tion, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture.

Al­though a global wildlife sum­mit last week banned all trade of pan­golins, doubts re­main whether that will stop their il­le­gal traf­fic in Africa fu­eled by grow­ing de­mand fromAsian con­sumers.

Com­mer­cial trade is now for­bid­den in all eight pan­golin species, ac­cord­ing to de­ci­sions made last week at the con­fer­ence in Johannesburg of the Con­ven­tion on Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

De­mand for the two prod­ucts in East Asia is caus­ing ram­pant poach­ing that is dec­i­mat­ing the pan­golin pop­u­la­tion in East and Cen­tral Africa.

The poach­ing dis­cov­ered in Uganda and other African coun­tries is only “the tip of the ice­berg”, said Anne-Marie Wee­den, gen­eral man­ager at the Uganda Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion. Poverty and lack of con­ser­va­tion aware­ness en­cour­age poach­ing, as poor ru­ral peo­ple do not see value in pro­tect­ing an­i­mals that can be sold to traf­fick­ers forhun­dreds, even thou­sands, of dol­lars.

“Peo­ple­need­to­haveamean­ing­ful al­ter­na­tive source of in­come and have to ben­e­fit from the na­tional parks they live next door to,” Wee­den said.

Traf­fick­ers from Kam­pala, Uganda’s cap­i­tal, usu­ally drive from vil­lage to vil­lage to get whole pan­golins or scales di­rectly from the lo­cals. The traf­fick­er­s­thensellthemwitha big­ger­margin­to­mid­dle­menin Kam­pala or di­rectly to buy­ers, who are con­nected to cor­rupt agents at air­ports and bor­der points who turn a blind eye to their ship­ment of scales.

Re­cently, poach­ers could sell 1 kilo­gram of pan­golin scales for about $45 to a mid­dle­man, who in turn could sell it for much more, be­tween $73 and $100, to agents for buy­ers. Prices jump again once the scales reachAsia.

The scales ac­count for about 20 per­cent of a pan­golin’s weight.

Theil­le­gal trade of­pan­golins is “boom­ing”, said Abel Ahabwe, head of in­ves­ti­ga­tions for the con­ser­va­tion net­work. “The prob­lem is get­ting worse. One day you are com­ing up with one way to catch them, but they keep chang­ing their meth­ods.”

In April, four men were caught try­ing to sell two live pan­golins in Uganda’s north­ern city of Kit­gum for about $15,000. Onewasa­lo­cal po­lice­man, who was ac­quit­ted while the other three re­ceived a three-month pri­son sen­tence. Many traf­fick­ers are con­nected to the po­lice or mil­i­tary forces, Ahabwe said.

The Uganda Wildlife Author­ity said it is aware of the prob­lem. “We are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, with aware­ness, sen­si­ti­za­tion, and we think we will be able to deal with this,” said Edgar Buhanga, its deputy direc­tor of plan­ning. A new wildlife con­ser­va­tion law is be­ing con­sid­ered that will have stiffer penal­ties and pri­son sen­tences for traf­fick­ers.

How­ever, Uganda’s wildlife author­ity it­self has­come­un­der fire for cor­rup­tion, no­tably when1.5 tons of ivory van­ished from govern­ment store­rooms in 2014. The author­ity’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor was sus­pended and then re­in­stated a few months later.

De­nis Odong, a ranger at Kidepo Val­ley Na­tional Park, close to South Su­dan, has seen only one pan­golin in his eight years of ser­vice.

“Pan­golin scales are worth a lot on the mar­ket,” he said. He is re­search­ing whether the park’s policy of shar­ing its rev­enue with sur­round­ing­com­mu­ni­ties ac­tu­ally decreases poach­ing. Uganda’s parks dis­trib­ute 20 per­cent of their en­trance fees to local com­mu­ni­ties.

Al­though he ad­mit­ted to once hav­ing eaten pan­golin meat at a restau­rant a few years ago, Odong said he has changed his mind: “Pan­golins need to be pro­tected.”

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