Just before the Easter long weekend the Tikki Hywood Foundation (THF) rescued eight white-bellied pangolins, and one black-bellied pangolin from the Nkoldongo bushmeat market in Yaounde, Cameroon.
“The demand for bushmeat increases around holidays like Christmas, Easter and Youth Day,” explains Lisa Hywood, founder and CEO of the THF. In Cameroon, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 26. As Mother’s Day looms, spikes in bushmeat trade are also expected.
Luckily organisations like EAGLE (Eco-Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement) Network fight against this lawlessness. They arrest 20 to 30 people every month. In 2018, 23 pangolin traffickers were arrested in three countries and over 1 800 pangolin scales were seized in total.
Bushmeat markets in Cameroon
If you know where to look, you can find four to five dead pangolins in Yaounde on any given day. One of the biggest threats to wildlife, endangered and otherwise, is the consumption of bushmeat in West and Central Africa.
A small white bellied pangolin can go for 8 000 Central African francs (cfa), equating to around $13 per 2.5kg of meat. It is even cheaper in small towns and villages.
Pangolin meat is still openly sold in restaurants in Cameroon. “The meat is prepared in a variety of ways from roasted on a BBQ to boiled in stews,” explains Hywood. All eight species of pangolins are listed as Appendix I on CITES CoP17.
While locals are after the pangolins for the pot, the Asian market is hungry for the scales and meat used in traditional medicine.
Pangolins of Cameroon
Cameroon is home to three species of pangolin including the giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), white–bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and the black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla).. Both the black- and white-bellied pangolins are arboreal and spend a lot of time in trees. The ground pangolin is terrestrial and forages on the ground. All African species of pangolin survive on a diet of ants and termites.
Pangolin scales consist of a fibrous protein known as keratin, the same compound found in human nails and rhino horn.
“The trafficking of scales is usually run by centralised criminal syndicates who control field networks that cross international borders,” says Ofir Drori activist and founder of The Last Great Ape organisation (LAGA), a wildlife law enforcement non-governmental organisation operating in Central Africa. “One field network can centralise tons of scales that are shipped in containers to Asia.”
Scales of the giant pangolin cost between 30 000 to 70 000cfa. Due to corruption and a lack of law enforcement, Nigeria and Cameroon are two of the largest exporters of pangolin scales. “Corruption among high-level African officials is the main factor enabling organised crime and pangolin scales trafficking,” says Drori. The revenue generated from pangolin scales is currently higher than elephant ivory, often referred to as white gold.
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Written by Georgina Lockwood
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