From Cameroon to Indonesia the scaly anteaters are being driven extinct at alarming rates.
A sad fact of our world is that many endangered species are worth far more dead than alive. To poachers and wildlife traffickers, that is. Traffickers, and their customers, see elephants as animals of no intrinsic value beyond their tusks and view pangolins as disposable creatures whose only worth lies in their scales, which is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine.
Combating such mercantile views can be an uphill battle because the illegal trade in rare animals parts is a lucrative business worth billions of dollars each year. So in order to try and deter traffickers from continuing to smuggle animal parts like ivory and pangolin scales, officials in several wildlife trafficking hubs have resorted to a simple form of deterrence: the public destruction of illicit animal parts seized from smugglers.
The hope is that by seeing their ill-gotten merchandise going up in flames (literally), smugglers will be more reluctant to expand plenty more money and manpower on their trafficking operations. A case in point: government officials in Malaysia, a hub of international wildlife trafficking networks, have just incinerated 2.8 tons of African pangolin scales, which would have been worth $9 million on the black market.
The aim behind the destruction of the scales seized from traffickers at a Malaysian port last year, has been to try and deter wildlife trafficking syndicates from using Malaysia as a transit country between Africa and China or Vietnam. As many as 3,000 pangolins were likely killed to obtain that many scales, local officials estimated. “Such a huge seizure and torching of it is definitely a blow to smuggling syndicates,“ Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, director-general of Malaysia’s Wildlife and National Parks Department, told a foreign news agency.
Last year alone Malaysia destroyed 8 tons of pangolin scales seized from traffickers. Over the past few years officials elsewhere too, including African nations, have burned pangolin scales, as well as other trafficked animal parts like ivory, to send a message to smugglers. From Cameroon to Indonesia the scaly anteaters are being driven extinct by poachers and traffickers at alarming rates. Over the past decade an estimated 1 million pangolins have been butchered for their scales, and at times meat, to the effect that all eight subspecies of the shy animals are now critically endangered.
The loss of pangolins from the wild would be a blow to local ecosystems, conservationists have warned. “Pangolins are one of the oldest mammals on Earth,” notes Zhao Peng, chief conservation officer for WildAid’s Nature Conservancy China. “A pangolin weighing just 3kg can help protect roughly 16 hectares of forest from being overrun with ants,” the expert adds. “Protecting pangolins is not just about saving an endangered species, but also about healthy ecosystems.”