In just a space of less than one week, two huge shipments of pangolin scales from Nigeria were intercepted in Singapore. Both containers bound for Vietnam contained 12.9 tonnes (worth $52.3 million) and 12.7 tonnes (worth $51.6 million) of pangolin scales, totalling 25.6 tonnes. The single shipment of 12.9 tonnes is the largest so far in the history of pangolin scales trafficking, and now followed by the second discovered haul.
This kind of trafficking episodes has continued to precipitate concerns from conservationists all around the world, especially for a species like the pangolin for whom relatively very little is known of their biology and ecological roles and functions. We have witnessed a sharp rise in the last ten years of the trade of pangolins and their parts from Africa to markets in Asia, mostly China and Vietnam. The scale of this trade is escalating and mounting enormous pressure on the population of pangolins that may be left in Africa, a figure that no one at present has any idea. The IUCN has categorized all four African species as vulnerable, while in 2016, CITES up listed all 8 species in the world to Appendix 1 to prohibit trade and afford some form of protection. The CITES decision in effect has resulted into many shipments been discovered, but it has often not nabbed the suspects involved in this trade network. CITES has made a call on all parties involved to work together in investigating and exposing those behind this illegal trade. It is also said that the Chinese and Vietnamese people and government need to work at addressing and changing attitudes that continue to drive demand for pangolins and its parts among their citizens.
What remains unclear about this present illegal trade discovery and in fact the more recent ones that have been claimed to originate from Nigeria is if the country has such population left of pangolins to make that volume of scales. According to the Minister for Environment, Nigeria cannot have a population of pangolins large enough to produce the quantity of scales often quoted, so it is possible that other African countries are only making use of Nigeria as a pangolin trade route. This in essence in itself implicates Nigeria as a country with porous borders and customs scrutiny. It is more than necessary at this point to embark on a survey to assess what may be left of pangolin population in Nigeria. Also in what is more like an anecdotal statement, the late Dr Ehi Ebewele, the former Nigerian Head of Wildlife Trade Division and CITES in 2016 said that the giant ground pangolin has not been sighted in Nigeria since the last 7 years. If this is true, then there is need to further investigate the original source of the pangolins that produced those scales in this most recent confiscation of 12.9 tonnes on the 3rd of April, as it was reported that the scales have been found to be derived from two species- White bellied and Giant ground pangolins.
Given that this current rate of exploitation goes on unchecked, in no short time the death knell will be sounded on the pangolin and they may be gone forever. This is a fate we can prevent by working cohesively, and Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria (PCWGN) is using this opportunity to appeal to the Nigerian Presidency in particular and every other stakeholder in order to save pangolins. Tighter border surveillance, equipping, training and empowering of enforcement agents to arrest and prosecute wildlife criminals, and provision of resources to carry out pangolin population survey are a few of the identified ways the Nigerian Federal Government can help in the fight.
The PCWGN has created a lot of awareness on Pangolins in the country, they have rescued, rehabilitated and released some pangolins into protected forest areas. The group is now planning a rescue and rehabilitation center for the pangolins in Nigeria in order to help address this kind of trading and pangolin exploitation in the country. The support of all well-meaning Nigerians is needed for this project.
Dr Olajumoke Morenikeji
Chair, Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria (PCWGN)