The Sunday Mail
After visiting several Asian countries, a Zimbabwean noted that private game reserves that are well-stocked with animals shipped from Africa were flourishing in the Far East.
Among the animals were elephants, kudus, zebras and eland.
Wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, is a multi-billion-dollar business which has seen hundreds of millions of specimens being traded annually.
Each year, wildlife species – among them those that are threatened by extinction – are shipped off, mostly to Asian countries.
Players in the local tourism sector believe that tourist arrivals from Asia will in the future decline considerably due to the establishment of game reserves that are stocked with animals from Africa.
Many game reserves are located in Africa where tourists take sight-seeing safaris. With the rate at which Asian countries are establishing wildlife reserves, tourist arrivals in Africa are set to decline.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of locals that are jailed for illegally possessing pangolins.
In 2015, four Gokwe men, including two police officers, were each sentenced to nine years in jail after they were found in possession of a pangolin. Several other cases were also handled with those convicted getting the mandatory 10-year sentence.
Zimbabwe has been hailed for its tough law against the trafficking of the pangolin and is a perfect example of how other countries can tackle pangolin trafficking.
In the majority of the cases that the traffickers were brought to book, a joint taskforce involving police Mineral and Border Control Unit, members of the Parks and Wildlife Authority Management and the Zimbabwe National Army were involved.
Deploying such a high-level taskforce proves that Zimbabwe is serious in fighting the trafficking of pangolins.
A paper published in the International Journal of Conservation, titled: Taking a stand against illegal wildlife trade: the Zimbabwean approach to pangolin conservation, highlights Government’s determination to curb pangolin trafficking.
Zimbabwe is cited as a perfect example of how governments should tackle issues to do with pangolin trafficking.
Despite the tough laws, Tikki Hywood Trust, a local nature conservation organisation, is still advocating for even tougher laws.
Questions have, however, been raised regarding the lengthy jail terms imposed on pangolin traffickers, which are, at times even more than those handed down to rapists and murderers.
What is so special about pangolins?
Hunted for their scales and meat, the pangolin, which is the only mammal in the world covered in scales, has become the most hunted and trafficked mammal in the world.
Pangolins are highly sought after due to a great demand from Asian countries, especially China, where pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and their meat is considered a delicacy and luxury dish in restaurants.
They are also hunted and eaten in many parts of Africa where they are regarded as meat only fit to be consumed by members of royal families.
China’s appetite for pangolins continues to increase with unfounded beliefs that their scales stimulate lactation, cure asthma, acne and cancer, among other ailments.
In traditional Chinese medicine, pangolin scales are dried, roasted and then administered to relieve palsy, stimulating lactation and to drain pus. As a result, pangolin scales can sell on the black market for over $3 000 a kilogramme.
Pangolins have, for long, been used for traditional medicinal purposes throughout Africa.
Some of the people caught with pangolins told the courts that they intended to use the animal in superstitious rites to improve their businesses.
According to Mr Tavarwira Chipoko, a traditional healer, pangolin scales are used to cure many ailments.
“The scales are dried and roasted and then mixed with a number of other things. They cure hysteria, chase away evil spirits, treat malaria fever and deafness. Just like baboon urine, pangolin scales play an important role in African traditional medicine,” Mr Chipoko said.
Apart from being hunted, the destruction of pangolin habitats due to deforestation has also contributed to the rapid decline of pangolin populations.
The United Nations says it is hard to estimate how many pangolins still remain in the wild.
In 2010, pangolins were added to the Zoological Society of London’s list of genetically distinct and endangered mammals.
Some estimates claims that pangolin sales now account for up to 20 per cent of the entire wildlife black market.
Pangolins are protected by an international ban on their trade and all eight pangolin species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Some pangolin species are listed on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered.
Environmentalists argue that the poaching of pangolins has an environmental impact since each pangolin can eat tens of thousands of insects per year.
Although the impact of removing these creatures from nature is not yet known, environmentalists believe it could be huge.
A 2009 report by Simon Stuart, of the IUCN Species Survival Commission states that pangolins contribute to the saving of millions of dollars in pest destruction.
“These shy creatures provide a vital service and we cannot afford to overlook their ecological role as natural controllers of termites and ants,” read part of the report.
Interesting facts about pangolins
– There are eight species of pangolin still in existence worldwide, as well as several extinct species over their 80 million year evolution.
– A pangolin’s tongue can be longer than its body. When fully extended, a pangolin’s tongue can be over 40cm long, and starts deep in the chest cavity. Pangolin do not have teeth and are unable to chew, however, they use their sticky tongues to collect insects – up to 70 million a year – which are ground up by stones and keratinous spines inside their stomachs.
– The name means “something that rolls up”. The ground pangolin got its common name from the Malay (the national language of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia) word “pengguling”, meaning “rolling up”, in reference to the animal’s defence mechanism of rolling into a tight, near-impenetrable ball when threatened. Unfortunately, this practice makes it even easier for humans to capture and smuggle them, as hunters can simply pick it up.
– Some climb trees, others dig holes. With their large, curved claws, pangolins are able both to grip on to overhanging tree branches and dig through concrete. Arboreal pangolins, such as the African long-tailed species, live in trees, while others dig burrows so large a human could stand up in them.
– Even big cats don’t know what to do with them. Aside from humans, pangolins’ main predators include lions, tigers and leopards. Often, though, rolling up in a ball is enough to outwit the big cats, as a pangolin’s keratin scales are too hard for even a lion to bite through.
– Nobody knows how long they live. It is presumed that pangolins have a lifespan of twenty years in the wild, since the oldest recorded pangolin lived for 19 years in captivity. The creatures are very rarely found in zoos, however, as time spent in captivity tends to bring about stress, depression and malnutrition, leading to early death. As such, it is unknown how long a pangolin can live for.
– They emit a noxious acid-like smell. When threatened, pangolins defend themselves by rolling up in a ball and, if needed, lashing out with their tail – the scales which can easily cut a predator’s skin. In addition they are able to emit a noxious-smelling acid from glands near the anus, similar to that of a skunk, though pangolins are unable to spray the liquid.
Additional information from online sources and Associated Press.