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CITES: A good day to be a pangolin

  • Written by  Harriet Constable
  • Published in Wildlife
Pangolin in the Kalahari desert Pangolin in the Kalahari desert 2630ben
29 Sep
2016
Delegates at CITES yesterday voted to ban international commercial trade in all eight species of pangolin

The last ten years have been abysmal for pangolins. Since 2006, over a million of these small, nocturnal animals – which many people will never have even heard of – have been taken from the wild to fuel demand for their scales and meat in East Asia. Intense poaching has provided them with the saddest of titles: Most Illegally Traded Mammal In The World.

Yet yesterday, delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) COP17 passed a motion to move them to Appendix I – offering all eight species of pangolin from both Asia and Africa the highest levels of protection, and making trade in their parts completely illegal.

The proposals were lead by India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Vietnam, Angola, Botswana, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Togo, and supported by the United States, New Zealand and others.

Arguing for their up-listing yesterday, a delegate from India said, ‘In spite of strict national laws protecting pangolins’ vulnerability [in India], illegal trade remains a concern. We have noticed tiger hunters shifting to poaching pangolins [because of rising demand and market price]. Because of this, the species could be driven to extinction and India strongly supports the up-listing of all pangolin species to Appendix I.’

Pangolins and the illegal trade

Pangolins are small, scaly mammals found throughout parts of Asia and Africa. They are nocturnal, solitary creatures: sleeping in burrows in the day and coming out at night to use their powerful fore claws to dig for ants and termites, and then lick them up with their long, sticky tongues.

They are slow growing mammals, which give birth to just one offspring at a time. This, of course, means their ability to recover from such high levels of poaching is almost impossible.

In many Asian cultures, pangolin scales are considered a cure for a variety of ailments including skin and liver diseases. Pangolin meat is also lauded as a delicacy in East Asia.

Shipments containing tons of pangolins are regularly seized by customs authorities, who peel back the crate lids to find piles of scales, and their tiny bodies curled up in balls: curling up on itself is the pangolin’s primary defence mechanism, but is no match for a poacher who can simply pick it up and carry it away.

In China and Vietnam alone, the species has been completely decimated by poaching, to the point of being considered ‘commercially extinct’ by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

As the Asian species have become depleted, traffickers have begun to target the four African species as well, causing concern about the future of the species on the African continent.

Following the decision yesterday, the room broke into applause, with delegates and conservationists alike celebrating the decision. Speaking afterwards, Susan Lieberman, Vice-President of International Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society said, ‘This will help give pangolins a fighting chance. The world is standing up for the little guy with this pivotal decision for greater protection of the pangolin. These species need extra protection, and under CITES Appendix I they will get it.’

Indonesia was the only party not in favour of the up-listing, voicing concerns about the protection increasing legal trade. ‘If there is no cap on domestic trade this [up-listing to Appendix I] will not make a difference,’ said their spokesperson yesterday. The country blocked a majority view to move Asian pangolins to Appendix I initially, which sent the proposal to a vote. It was here that parties overwhelmingly voted to increase the protection to Appendix I.

Mark Hofberg, Assistant Campaigns Officer at IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) said, ‘The rate at which [pangolins] are being killed is completely unsustainable and cruel. If nothing would be done, we could see these amazing creatures disappear within a generation.’

He continued, ‘Two separate decisions were taken today – one for Asia, and one for Africa. Of the two decisions, the African vote was completely unanimous; and only one country – Indonesia – voted against the Asian proposal. This is a perfect example of when the international community can come together for a species that truly needs help, and enacts strong, global regulations that can make a real difference.’

Ginette Hemley, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s CITES head of delegation also celebrated the decision, but warned that the push to protect the pangolin does not finish with this convention. ‘This fight doesn’t end here,’ she said. ‘The parties must move swiftly to enforce the decision. Illegal trade will continue to threaten pangolins as long as demand for their meat and scales persists. Today is a major step forward for conservation. But it’s only if countries act on the resolve they’ve shown today that pangolins will be given the chance to survive and lose their tag as the world’s most trafficked mammal.’

The listing in Appendix I will not become official until the final day of the Conference, when it is formally adopted by the Plenary. It will then enter into force 90 days after. Decisions are expected in the next few days on rhino, elephants, lions, sharks and more.

Read Harriet Constable’s report from Johannesburg on everything you need to know about the ten-day CITES conference, or find out from Klaus Dodds about the complicated geopolitical issues associated with CITES wildlife conservation and extinction.


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