KARACHI: The continuous ruthless hunting of pangolins has brought its population to a point that if conservation efforts are not strictly imposed, the scaly mammalian could go extinct within a few years in the Potohar region, says a recent survey report of the Zoological Survey of Pakistan (ZSP), a department functioning under the Ministry of Climate Change.
The aim of the survey was to determine the distribution and status of the Indian pangolin, investigate threats to the species and its habitat, gather information about its trade routes, usage of its body parts and develop a conservation plan applicable in the Potohar region.
Under the project, field surveys were carried out in selected sites including district Chakwal, Jhelum, and the area of Fateh Jang of district Attock. Margalla Hills were also surveyed for the species.
The survey was conducted by a ZSP team headed by senior zoologist Mehrban Ali Brohi.
It is important to know that the scaly anteater or pangolin is the only mammalian species with rigid keratinised protective scales around its body. There are eight species of pangolins, all found in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia.
Of the four Asian species, the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is the sole pangolin species found in Pakistan. Its home range includes India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, possibly Myanmar and extreme western China.
The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list indicates that all the species of pangolins are globally endangered and require immediate measures for conservation. The species is protected across Pakistan.
In Sindh, it has been reported from the right bank of the Indus in the hilly areas of Larkana and Dadu districts up to Malir, Karachi. It has also been recorded from Makran and Lasbela in Balochistan and Hyderabad, Sanghar, Umerkot districts up to Rann of Kutch.
“Though there are no scientific baseline studies available to compare the present data, conversations with locals, hunters and shepherds show that pangolin population has decreased due to poaching and illegal trade.
“Illegal hunting is continuing in all the areas of Jhelum, Attock and also in Margalla Hills, a protected area. According to locals, people from Faisalabad, Sargodha, Abbottabad and other areas come here and hunt the species.
“A comparison of the findings of the present survey results with past data shows that there has been significant decrease in the population of the Indian pangolin in district Chakwal,” the report adds.
Citing a trader, the report also shares that a pangolin fetches a very lucrative amount, depending on its size. The animal’s scales are purchased in the local market while other body parts are thrown away.
The hunters are often from impoverished communities like nomads, the report elaborates, while people who hunt wild boars have turned to trapping and killing pangolins for monetary benefits.
The study highlights the various techniques used in hunting pangolins, for instance, burrow digging method, hunting with dogs, using fire or phenyl to force the mammal to come out of its burrow and kill it.
The report points out that cases of pangolin’s trapping and killing was first recorded in ZSP from Talagang tehsil of Chakwal district.
According to the report, most of pangolin trade in the past involved its meat whereas its scales were discarded. However, there is now a lot of demand for its scales in Asian markets especially in China where these scales are crushed into a powder to make traditional medicines. It is believed that the keratin helps women who have trouble nursing and can also cure psoriasis, a skin ailment. These claims haven’t been scientifically proved, though.
In Pakistan, myths surrounds pangolin scales and it is believed to have natural powers that can save the cattle from evil and disease.
One major obstacle in conservation efforts, according to the report, is the low amount of fine. “The value of a hunted animal is many times more than the penalty imposed. It is, therefore, proposed that the penalty should be increased to at least Rs50,000 for a captured animal (the current fine amount is Rs10,000 under the Punjab Wildlife laws).
It is important to know that pangolins play an important ecological role. Their burrowing behaviour aerates and mixes the soil, improving its nutrient quality. Their abandoned burrows create additional shelter for other wildlife and their diet of ants and termites make them natural pest controllers. Estimates indicate that an adult pangolin can consume more than 70m insects annually.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2015