Pan­golin – the new rhino

Jamie Joseph re­ports from the front lines of the African poach­ing cri­sis.

Element - - CONTENTS -

Af­ter seven weeks of as­sign­ments, I flew out of Zim­babwe on Jan­uary 4 and landed in South Africa’s Lim­popo wilder­ness. I’ve been spend­ing about six hours a day in the bush, and I’ve asked sev­eral rangers if they’ve ever seen a pan­golin, and the an­swer is al­ways the same, “No, they’re so rare, but I wish I had.”

Well I have, and un­til it hap­pened, I had no idea how much it would mean to me. It was in the beau­ti­ful grounds of Tikki Hy­wood Trust’s pri­vate an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary, a trust founded more than two decades ago by Lisa Hy­wood.

Lisa led me into the nurs­ery and opened the door of Bam­banani’s crib on the floor. A cou­ple of min­utes later, the 10-week-old pan­golin or­phan opened her dreamy eyes and took a few steps for­ward into the dimly lit room.

I watched, mes­merised, as Bam­banani made her way over to Lisa sit­ting on the car­pet, bury­ing her tiny head into her hu­man mother’s jeans. Lisa gen­tly ran her fin­gers along Bam­banani’s cop­per scaled back and tail, while I sat be­side them tak­ing it all in, as if in slow mo­tion. An aura of mys­ti­cism seemed to en­gulf the room, and the pan­golin’s uni­corn qual­ity was sud­denly un­de­ni­able.

Bam­banani’s mother was poached, and she ar­rived at the Tikki Hy­wood Trust just one day old. The pan­golin is the most traf­ficked mam­mal on the planet, es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to syn­di­cates be­cause crim­i­nals don’t need a weapon to catch it, and so the risk is lower. They sim­ply pick up the pan­golin and stuff it into a sack. The an­i­mal then dies from suf­fo­ca­tion, or the poacher kills it. The car­cass is then boiled to re­move the scales.

“100,000 African pan­golins are be­ing poached each year,” says Lisa. That’s 100 times more than rhino poach­ing. “Be­cause pan­golins are se­cre­tive and noc­tur­nal, do­ing a cen­sus is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. We don’t know how many are left, but what we can say is that in Asia the pop­u­la­tion has been dec­i­mated – and Africa is next.”

The de­mand for pan­golin is very sim­i­lar to that for rhino horn; China, Viet­nam and Laos pre­dom­i­nantly. The scales of the pan­golin, made up of ker­atin (the stuff in your fin­ger­nails), are re­garded to have sim­i­lar medic­i­nal prop­er­ties to rhino horn, and even though this ho­cus po­cus Asian medicine has never been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to work, de­mand is in­sa­tiable.

In 2013 there was just over 600kg of African pan­golin scales con­fis­cated in Asia. In 2014 the num­ber sky­rock­eted to 6.7 tons. Africa is the new, deadly play­ground for Asian con­sump­tion.

The Tikki Hy­wood Trust is putting up a fight, and in its pur­suit for jus­tice, the weapon of choice is the legal sys­tem. The Trust fills a niche, en­sur­ing the preser­va­tion of smaller species that lack the at­ten­tion that larger an­i­mals get. At the same time, rhi­nos and ele­phants, the two iconic species of Africa’s poach­ing cri­sis, are also ben­e­fit­ting.

“We ad­dress a prob­lem as an ecosys­tem, from the smaller species; such as pan­golin and bat-eared fox, all the way up to the large, charis­matic species. I re­alised that if I re­ally wanted to have an im­pact in con­ser­va­tion what­ever I do in this stage in my life has to be im­ple­mented in such a way that, when I am no longer around, it still has an ef­fect,” says Lisa.

Iron­i­cally, in a coun­try where cor­rup­tion and ter­ror reign, Zim­babwe has some of the strong­est wildlife laws in the world right now; how­ever laws need to be im­ple­mented. Thanks to the ded­i­ca­tion of the Tikki Hy­wood Trust, Zim­babwe is cur­rently the most proac­tive coun­try in the world on pan­golin con­ser­va­tion.

“A few years ago the penalty for poach­ing a rhino was a cou­ple hun­dred dol­lars,” con­tin­ues Lisa. “The min­i­mum sen­tence is now US$120,000, 17 years in jail and no bail. This is some­thing that we changed through par­lia­ment, si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­creas­ing the fines for all wildlife that is poached within Zim­babwe.”

From 2011 to the end of 2012 ev­ery­thing was work­ing well, peo­ple were get­ting pros­e­cuted, but not to the full ex­tent of the law. As Lisa ex­plains it, the mag­is­trates are the en­forcers, and so she started work­ing di­rectly with the ju­di­ciary sys­tem.

Through work­shops and dis­cus­sions with mag­is­trates, Na­tional Parks, po­lice and the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Depart­ment, mak­ing sure the charges and af­fi­davits are cor­rect, the Trust fol­lows each case to con­clu­sion, putting the spot­light on any un­just legal wran­glings.

In 2014 nine pan­golin poach­ers were sen­tenced to nine years in jail, the max­i­mum term.

The ex­ten­sive work that the Tikki Hy­wood Trust has done with leg­is­la­tion – and then mak­ing sure the law is im­ple­mented – could fun­da­men­tally be a blue­print for Africa, and the world.

To find out what hap­pens next fol­low the jour­ney on sav­ingth­ewild.com Jamie Joseph is a writer and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist work­ing full time on Africa’s poach­ing cri­sis. She is the founder of sav­ingth­ewild.com. The Tikki Hy­wood Trust re­leases all an­i­mals back into the wild af­ter re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and is recog­nised as a global author­ity in the res­cue, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, re­lease and rear­ing of ground pan­golins. tikki­hy­woodtrust.org

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