Mil­lions of traded pan­golins slaugh­tered in Africa

Ac­tivists are suf­fer­ing vi­o­lent deaths at the rate of around four a week

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Damian Car­ring­ton

The true scale of the slaugh­ter of pan­golins in Africa has been dis­closed by new re­search show­ing that mil­lions of the mam­mals are killed each year.

The pan­golin was al­ready known to be the world’s most traf­ficked wild mam­mal, with at least a mil­lion traded in the last decade to sup­ply the de­mand for its meat and scales in Asian mar­kets. Pop­u­la­tions of Asian pan­golins have been dec­i­mated, leav­ing the crea­tures highly en­dan­gered and sharply shift­ing the fo­cus of ex­ploita­tion to Africa’s four species.

Pan­golins are se­cre­tive and noc­tur­nal, and some species live in trees, mak­ing them hard to count. But while the size of the pop­u­la­tions in Africa is un­known, the new anal­y­sis, based on data col­lected by hun­dreds of lo­cal re­searchers at hunt­ing sites and bush­meat mar­kets across cen­tral and west Africa, found up to 2.7 mil­lion are be­ing slaugh­tered every year.

“The num­ber is shock­ing,” said Daniel In­gram at Sus­sex Univer­sity, who led the re­search team. “Pan­golins have been hunted out of many ar­eas in Asia, and re­cent analy­ses show there is a grow­ing in­ter­na­tional trade be­tween Africa and Asia. If we don’t act now to bet­ter un­der­stand and pro­tectt these charis­matic an­i­mals, als, we may lose them.”

Pan­golins s curl into scaly balls s when threat­ened, which de­ters nat­u­ral­tural preda­tors suchuch as lions but is no de­fencee against hu- man hun­ters.ers. The re­searchers found half the an­i­mals had been snared or trapped, de­spite wire snares be­ing il­le­gal in most of the 14 cen­tral African na­tions an­a­lysed in the re­search. The anal­y­sis, pub­lished in the jour­nal Con­ser­va­tion Let­ters, also found that al­most half of the pan­golins killed were ju­ve­niles, a sign that the p pop­u­la­tionsp are be­ingg dan­ger­ously over­ex­ploited as an­i­mals are be­ing caught­caug be­fore they can rep re­pro­duce. This is part par­tic­u­larly harmfu ful, as pan­golins p pro­duce only one pup every y year or two. The study also found h hunt­ing of African pan pan­golins in 2014 was 150% higher than in the 1970s. Ric Richard Thomas, of the wildlife trade-mon­i­tor­ing net­work Traf­fic, noted the re­mark­able fre­quency of ma­jor pan­golin seizures. In June, Malaysian author­i­ties seized three big ship­ments of pan­golin scales, each from Africa and rep­re­sent­ing many thou­sands of an­i­mals.

A ban on the in­ter­na­tional trade in any pan­golin species was passed by the Con­ven­tion on the In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species in 2016. But In­gram said en­force­ment of laws had to be stepped up to pre­vent African pan­golins head­ing for ex­tinc­tion.

The Asian de­mand for pan­golin meat and scales as del­i­ca­cies and their sup­posed medic­i­nal uses are a ma­jor fac­tor in trade but many African pan­golins are eaten lo­cally. In­gram said mea­sures were needed to de­velop al­ter­na­tive liveli­hoods for hun­ters.

Last year was the most per­ilous ever for peo­ple de­fend­ing their com­mu­nity’s land, nat­u­ral re­sources or wildlife, with re­search show­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers are be­ing killed at the rate of al­most four a week across the world.

Two hun­dred en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, wildlife rangers and indige­nous lead­ers try­ing to pro­tect their land were killed in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the watch­dog group Global Wit­ness, more than dou­ble the num­ber killed five years ago. And the fre­quency is only in­creas­ing as 2017 ticks by, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided ex­clu­sively to the Guardian, with 98 killings iden­ti­fied in the first five months of this year.

John Knox, the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on hu­man rights and the en­vi­ron­ment, said: “Hu­man rights are be­ing jet­ti­soned as a cul­ture of im­punity is de­vel­op­ing. There is now an over­whelm­ing in­cen­tive to wreck the en­vi­ron­ment for eco­nomic rea­sons. The peo­ple most at risk are peo­ple who are al­ready marginalised and ex­cluded from pol­i­tics and ju­di­cial re­dress, and are de­pen­dent on the en­vi­ron­ment. The coun­tries do not re­spect the rule of law. Ev­ery­where in the world, de­fend­ers are fac­ing threats.

“There is an epi­demic now, a cul­ture of im­punity, a sense any­one can kill en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers with­out reper­cus­sions, elim­i­nate any­one who stands in the way. It [comes from] mining, agribusi­ness, il­le­gal log­ging and dam build­ing.”

A Mex­i­can indige­nous leader and op­po­nent of il­le­gal log­ging, Isidro Baldene­gro López, was killed in Jan­uary. In May, farm­ers in Brazil’s Maran­hão state at­tacked an indige­nous set­tle­ment, hack­ing at hands with ma­chetes, in a land con­flict that left more than a dozen in hos­pi­tal.

There have also been killings of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers and at­tacks on oth­ers in Colom­bia, Hon­duras, Mex­ico and else­where this year. Most de­fend­ers die in re­mote forests or vil­lages. Many of the killers are re­port­edly hired by cor­po­ra­tions or state forces; few are ever ar­rested or iden­ti­fied.

The Guardian has launched a project in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Global Wit­ness to at­tempt to record the deaths of ev­ery­one killed over the next year in de­fence of the en­vi­ron­ment. The project will re­port from the world’s last wilder­nesses, as well as from the most in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries on the planet, on the work of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers and the as­saults upon them.

Billy Kyte, cam­paign leader on the is­sue at Global Wit­ness, said the killings on the list were only part of an epi­demic of vi­o­lence: “Com­mu­ni­ties that take a stand against en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion are now in the fir­ing line of com­pa­nies’ pri­vate se­cu­rity guards, state forces and con­tract killers. For every land and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fender who is killed, many more are threat­ened with death, evic­tion and de­struc­tion of their re­sources.

“These are not iso­lated in­ci­dents. They are symp­to­matic of a sys­tem­atic as­sault on re­mote and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties by state and cor­po­rate ac­tors.”

The num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­flicts around the world is grow­ing, and they are be­com­ing more in­tense, say re­searchers. An EU-funded at­las of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­flict re­ported by aca­demics at 23 uni­ver­si­ties has iden­ti­fied more than 2,000, over wa­ter and land, and in­clud­ing pol­lu­tion, evic­tions and mining.

“These are just the re­ported [in­ci­dents]. There could be three times as many. There is much more vi­o­lence now,” said Bobby Ban­er­jee, a Cass Busi­ness School re­searcher who has stud­ied re­sis­tance to global de­vel­op­ment projects for 15 years.

“The con­flicts are hap­pen­ing world­wide now be­cause of glob­al­i­sa­tion. Cap­i­tal­ism is vi­o­lent and global cor­po­ra­tions are look­ing to poor coun­tries for ac­cess to land and re­sources. Poor coun­tries are more cor­rupt­ible and have weaker law en­force­ment. Com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments now work to­gether to kill peo­ple,” he said.

The 2016 Global Wit­ness data shows that the in­dus­tries at the heart of con­flict were mining and oil, which were linked to 33 killings. Log­ging was in se­cond place world­wide – with 23 deaths, up from 15 the pre­vi­ous year – fol­lowed by agri­cul­ture. That rank­ing could change. In the first five months of this year, the most strik­ing trend is that for the first time agribusi­ness is ri­valling mining as the dead­li­est sec­tor, with 22 deaths world­wide, just one short of the to­tal for the whole of last year.

The sit­u­a­tion in Colom­bia in par­tic­u­lar has wors­ened in 2017. Brazil and the Philip­pines are also on course to record higher death tolls, and indige­nous groups con­tinue to suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ately.

In terms of coun­try rank­ings, in 2016 Brazil was once again the dead­li­est coun­try, with 49 killings, many of them in the Ama­zon rain­for­est. Tim­ber pro­duc­tion was im­pli­cated in 16 cases as the coun­try’s de­for­esta­tion rate surged by 29%. Latin Amer­ica re­mained the most dan­ger­ous re­gion, ac­count­ing for 60 of the global to­tal of killings of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers, even though it is home to less than a 10th of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

With size­able eco­nomic in­ter­ests at stake, state se­cu­rity forces were be­hind at least 43 killings glob­ally – 33 by the po­lice and 10 by the mil­i­tary – while pri­vately hired hands in­clud­ing se­cu­rity guards and hit­men were re­spon­si­ble for 52 deaths.

Laura Cáceres is one of the daugh­ters of Berta Cáceres, leader of the Lenca peo­ple – an indige­nous tribe in Hon­duras – who was mur­dered in

2016 af­ter re­sist­ing the Agua Zarca hy­dro­elec­tric dam on the Gual­car­que river. Now in ex­ile fol­low­ing death threats, Laura was re­cently in Ox­ford at a con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Not One More, a group founded in 2016 in re­sponse to the vi­o­lence fac­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­fend­ers.

“Berta Cáceres was a hin­drance to the sys­tem,” she said. “[Hon­duras] is so bat­tered; 30% of the land has been granted to transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions. Com­pa­nies are tak­ing over an­ces­tral ter­ri­to­ries. Forests are be­ing pri­va­tised. My mother was pas­sion­ate about her land, her roots, and was hor­ri­fied by the sin­is­ter and vi­o­lent forms with which im­pe­ri­al­ism acts.”

Shortly af­ter the con­fer­ence, the Guardian re­ported that an­other of Berta Cáceres’s chil­dren, Berta Zúñiga, had sur­vived an armed at­tack soon af­ter be­ing named leader of the indige­nous rights or­gan­i­sa­tion for­merly led by her mother.

“We are de­fend­ers of life,” said Laura. “We don’t want to lose our lives and lose our ma­mas and fam­i­lies. But we as­sume that risk. If they can mur­der some­one with high recog­ni­tion like my mother, Berta, then they can mur­der any­one.”

Or­lando Sierra/Getty

Re­mem­bered … a rally in mem­ory of the Hon­duran ac­tivist Berta Cáceres and other women killed de­fend­ing the en­vi­ron­ment

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